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What to do if someone is drowning, having a heart attack or an allergic reaction

EMTs stopped by TODAY to share crucial information about what you should do in the event of an emergency like a drowning, seizure or if somone starts choking.
/ Source: TODAY

Would you know what to do if you saw someone choking? How would you respond if a child started drowning when you were at the pool? And what if you saw someone having a seizure?

Medical emergencies happen every day, and there are some things you can do that could help the person in danger.

Several emergency medical technicians stopped by TODAY to share advice on how to prepare for different kinds of medical emergencies. First of all, try to remain calm and assess the scene and the person in need of help. Next, call 911 or a local emergency number immediately. Take action — don't assume anyone else will help.

Here are a few more specifics for different emergencies.

Cardiac arrest

Warning signs: Person suddenly collapses or is unconscious; person isn't breathing or has no pulse.

Each year, more than 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen in the U.S., according to the American Heart Association. If bystanders are able to step in and perform hands-only CPR, it could be lifesaving.

How to perform CPR:

  • Put one hand on top of the other hand, and put them over the middle of a person's chest.
  • Push 100 beats per minute (to the tune of the song "Stayin' Alive").
  • Push down with effort. Chest compressions should be deep, about 1-2 inches down is the goal. Put your whole body into it.

The most common mistakes people make with CPR are not getting involved, not calling 911 for help, giving mouth-to-mouth respiration over chest compression, and forgetting their own safety.

How to use an automated external defibrillator:

This is the device that, combined with chest compressions, saved trainer Bob Harper's life. While someone goes to grab the AED, another person should call 911 and begin chest compressions. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Turn on the AED and follow the visual and/or audio prompts.
  • Allow the AED to analyze the victim's heart rhythm before pressing the "shock" button.
  • Begin CPR after delivering the shock.


Warning signs: Person's mouth is at water level, and they may be dipping below the surface. Person's head may be tilted back, and eyes may be glassy or closed. The person is trying to breathe and is probably not able to call out for help. Drowning is silent — you probably won't hear water splashing or hear someone flailing.

Follow these United States Swim School Association guidelines:

  • "Throw, don't go": Don't jump in; a drowning person can accidentally pull their rescuers under with them. Toss a lifesaving device to the person.
  • Call 911 and alert lifeguards.
  • If you approach the drowning person, approach from behind.
  • Use a life jacket when you enter the water to help a drowning person.
  • Once they're out of the water, check to see if they are breathing or have a pulse.
  • If there is no pulse, start CPR.
  • Look for signs of secondary drowning: If a drowning is prevented, the victim may still have water in their lungs and can suffocate hours later. Watch for labored breathing, lethargy and coughing hours afterward.


Warning signs: Person is unable to breathe or make any sound. Person is making the universal choking sign (hands around his or her throat).

How to perform the Heimlich maneuver:

  • Stand behind the person and wrap your arms around their waist.
  • Make a fist with one hand and place it above their navel. Grasp your fist with the other hand.
  • Press hard into the abdomen using quick, upward thrusts, like you're trying to lift the person up.
  • Perform until the blockage is dislodged, as long as the person remains conscious.

If the person is under 8 years old (but not an infant), follow the steps outlined above, but only with one arm. If an infant is choking, follow these instructions from the American Red Cross.

Severe allergic reaction

Warning signs: Person is displaying hives, swollen lips, tongue or throat. Person is also wheezing or is having difficulty breathing. If they own an EpiPen, chances are it is an allergic reaction.

How to use an EpiPen:

  • Inject immediately at the first signs of anaphylaxis.
  • Hold the injector with the blue safety cap facing upward. Remove the cap by pulling straight up. "Blue to the sky, orange the thigh" is a good way to remember which way to open the pen.
  • Inject the tip into the outer muscle of the thigh until you hear a click. Hold for 10 seconds.
  • If using on a child, hold the child's leg still. Look the child in the face while you're doing this and let them know what's going on.
  • Then call 911.
  • Rub injection site in circular motions to help stimulate blood flow.

It's important to note that different brands have different methods of injecting. Read the instructions carefully when picking up a prescription or preparing to use a product.


Warning signs: Person has a staring spell, or their body stiffens up like a board. Person may be making uncontrollable movements with his or her limbs. Person may become unconscious or unaware.

What to do next:

  • Help the person sit or lie down, and make them comfortable. Do not force them in any way.
  • Turn the person on their side to help them breathe.
  • Move nearby objects out of the way to prevent injury.
  • Time the seizure; it could be concerning if it lasts longer than five minutes. Relay information to paramedics when they arrive.