EACH year, 3,900 healthy individuals in the United States strangle because of food stuck in their throats (New York Times Magazine, June 16, 1974, p 10). The actual incidence is probably much higher, as indicated by a report of unsuspected food-choking found at postmortem examinations of three patients thought to have died from myocardial infarction in one nursing home last year.1 Food-choking is the sixth leading cause of accidental death—its victims number more than those accidentally killed by firearms or in airplane accidents. This article describes experimental studies and the clinical evaluation of a simple maneuver that prevents these food-choking fatalities.
Food-choking can be recognized easily. The victim cannot speak or breathe; he becomes pale, then deeply cyanotic, and collapses. Because death is sudden (occurring in four to five minutes), the episode is sometimes confused with a myocardial infarction, although the signs and symptoms of the two are different. The