Finger Probe: First Aid Maneuver For a Choking Emergency

A scene in the 1993 American comedy film, “Mrs. Doubtfire,” shows the lead character, Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire (played by Robin Williams), give first aid to a choking Stuart Dunmeyer (played by Pierce Brosnan) by performing the first aid maneuver called abdominal or epigastric thrust, now more popularly known as the Heimlich maneuver. That scene showed how the first aid maneuver saved the life of a choking victim.

Besides the Heimlich maneuver, there is another first aid maneuver that may be performed during a choking emergency. This other first aid maneuver is known as the finger probe.

Choking can occur when a person attempts to swallow a piece of food too large to pass through the esophagus, or when he accidentally draws food into the air passages leading to the lungs. When either of these two instances happens and choking does occur, the victim will make a great effort to breathe and will be unable to speak. In such a case, his head is thrown back and his face becomes bluish red; also, his eyes may protrude.

In a choking emergency, it is important to determine whether the victim is passing any air in and out of his lungs. If his air passages are partially obstructed, some air movement continues through the narrowed windpipe and there is time to get medical assistance before the choking victim collapses, which is likely.

But if his air passages are totally closed, the choking victim will soon collapse and die within minutes from lack of air and oxygen unless emergency action is taken. This is when the finger probe comes in importantly.

The finger probe is a suitable first aid maneuver in a choking situation in which a lump of food or other firm object is lodged in the throat of the victim. This first aid maneuver is initiated by opening widely the mouth of the choking victim, then grasping the tip of his tongue through the fold of a handkerchief and pulling the tongue well forward.

Next, pass the forefinger of the other hand over the victim’s tongue and along the side of his throat far enough to reach the edge of the object that is causing the obstruction. The person performing the finger probe should take care not to push his forefinger into the midline of the choking victim’s throat, as this might push the obstructing object further into the air passages.

A sweeping motion of the finger to bring the obstructing object forward into the choking victim’s mouth is the last step in a successfully-performed finger probe. But even if the choking victim appears to breathe normally again, he should still be seen by a physician to determine whether the obstructing object has been completely taken out.

It is likewise important for the physician to find out whether there has been any damage to the choking victim’s tissues by the first aid maneuver used to restore his normal breathing, in which case medical treatment may be necessary.

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