What to Do When Someone Is Choking

What to Do When Someone Is Choking

Last update: 17 June, 2015

Choking can be really scary. The person may not be able to breathe or ask for help when something is stuck in their throat, meaning the people around them will need to notice that there is something wrong and help. Here are all the things you need to know so you will deal with this sort of situation confidently.

The signs and symptoms of choking include the following:

  • The person can’t speak, has great difficulty or the limited ability to express themselves verbally.
  • The person choking grabs their throat or mouth area, or tries to vomit by putting their hands into their throat to dislodge the object somehow.
  • Breathing is laboured, and they may be gasping or wheezing.
  • The person tries to cough violently to dispel whatever is in their throat.
  • The person may turn blue in the face due to a lack of oxygen to the head, when breathing is not restored quickly.
  • The person may fall unconscious if they don’t receive help or manage to dislodge the blockage themselves.


1. Identify the type of choking

Choking is normally brought on by a blockage in the throat, preventing air from flowing into their lungs. In adults, this may be caused by something the person eats, and in children, by a toy or other small object they pick up and put into their mouth.

When adults drink too much, they may choke on their own vomit. Nice, right? Many people have passed away like this, and others’ airways may close due to allergic reactions or another accident which causes a physical trauma.

If someone chokes and doesn’t receive first aid, they may get brain damage or die from asphyxiation, so it’s really important to know to help them. You may save their life.

So chocking can be caused by:

  • physical blockage, when something obstructs the flow of air – this might include normal foodstuff like bananas, marshmallows or sweets, which can change shape as you swallow them and block the airway.
  • respiratory diseases like asthma and allergies
  • compression of the larygopharynx, trachea, larynx or other structure in the throat area due to strangulation or a trauma like a car crash.
  • laryngospasm, when the vocal cords close temporarily, which makes people feel like they’re choking.

2. Using the Heimlich manoeuver on adults and children over one year old

Using the Heimlich manoeuver can stop someone from choking very quickly. However, it’s important to approach the person in the right way.

Firstly, assess the situation. If they are choking a little bit, they may cough up the object partially blocking their throat, and you don’t need to do anything.

If there is something partially blocking their airway, it’s best not to hit them on the back! This may make things worse.

If their coughing doesn’t solve the problem, ask them, “Are you choking?” If the person is unable to respond to you verbally, that’s when you should jump into action.

Monitor the situation, and encourage them to keep coughing. Let the person know what you are going to do at all times. If you are on your own, try and help the person before calling 999. If there is someone else there, they should ring for an ambulance.

Give back blows

  • Stand behind the person, to the left slightly if you are right-handed and on the opposite side if you’re left-handed.
  • Put one hand on the person’s chest as support, and lean them forward a little.
  • Hit them forcefully between the shoulder blades, using the heel area of your hand (where your hand meets your wrist). Do this 5 times, making sure the object hasn’t come out between each one.
  • If the object is still inside their body, use the Heimlich manoeuver.

The Heimlich manoeuver

  • These abdominal trusts should only be used in emergencies on adults and children over a year old.
  • Stand behind the person choking and lean them forward.
  • Make a fist with one hand, and place it on their navel.
  • Take your other hand and cover your fist with it, then make a thrusting movement upwards and back into your own body.
  • Check to see if the problem has been solves after each and every thrust. Do this 5 times. Stop if the person starts to lose consciousness.

If a pregnant woman or an obese person is choking, make sure your hands are higher up, at the bottom of the breast bone.

The person should spit out anything left in their mouth. If they are still in shock, tell them you are going to use your finger to make sure there’s nothing left in there.

If the person falls unconscious, lower them to the floor so they are facing upwards. Use your finger to sweep anything you can see in their mouth outwards. Try not to push it further in, though!

Check for signs of breathing, by putting your cheek next to the person’s mouth and feeling for airflow. Spend 10 seconds looking for signs of breathing. Their chest may be rising. If they aren’t, perform CPR. This may dislodge the blockage. Ring for an ambulance, then come back and perform rescue breathing while you wait for the ambulance to arrive. Breathe and stay calm. Keep checking the mouth after each round of CPR to make sure the object hasn’t come loose.

Babies younger than one year

If a baby is making strange noises or no sound at all when she opens her mouth, and is unable to cry or cough, she may be choking. Look for signs of her skin changing red or blue.

Again, if the airway is partially blocked, coughing will be the most effective method of dislodging a blockage.

Ask someone to ring 999 if the baby can’t cough up the object, or give two minutes of care then ring for an ambulance, unless the baby’s throat is swollen shut or she is at risk of heart problems, in which case make the phone call immediately.

Sit on a chair. Place the baby along your forearm, with their head facing down. Using the heel of your hand again, use 5 blows. Support her head and neck firmly by holding her jaw between your thumb and forefinger.

If this doesn’t work, turn her over and use the pads of two fingers between her nipples and push down 5 times about 1 and a half inches.