How to help a choking victim

This article was co-authored by Laura Marusinec, MD. Dr. Marusinec is a board certified Pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, where she is on the Clinical Practice Council. She received her M.D. from the Medical College of Wisconsin School of Medicine in 1995 and completed her residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Pediatrics in 1998. She is a member of the American Medical Writers Association and the Society for Pediatric Urgent Care.

There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Choking is caused by a blockage in the throat, which restricts airflow. [1] X Research source St John, The New Zealand First Aid Handbook, p.35, ISBN 978-0-14-301187-3 Most often, choking in adults is the result of getting food stuck in the windpipe. In children, choking commonly occurs when toys, coins, or other small objects become lodged in the throat or windpipe. Choking can also occur as a result of injury, trauma, drinking alcohol, or swelling after a severe allergic reaction. [2] X Trustworthy Source National Health Service (UK) Public healthcare system of the UK Go to source Without first aid, the lack of airflow brought on by choking can cause serious brain damage or even death by asphyxiation. If you or someone else is choking, it’s important to know how to help.

Note: This article covers adults and children over 1 year of age. For children under one year, see How to Do First Aid on a Choking Baby.

This article was co-authored by Laura Marusinec, MD. Dr. Marusinec is a board certified Pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, where she is on the Clinical Practice Council. She received her M.D. from the Medical College of Wisconsin School of Medicine in 1995 and completed her residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Pediatrics in 1998. She is a member of the American Medical Writers Association and the Society for Pediatric Urgent Care.

There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 15 testimonials and 82% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

This article has been viewed 444,785 times.

Choking is caused by a blockage in the throat, which restricts airflow. [1] X Research source St John, The New Zealand First Aid Handbook, p.35, ISBN 978-0-14-301187-3 Most often, choking in adults is the result of getting food stuck in the windpipe. In children, choking commonly occurs when toys, coins, or other small objects become lodged in the throat or windpipe. Choking can also occur as a result of injury, trauma, drinking alcohol, or swelling after a severe allergic reaction. [2] X Trustworthy Source National Health Service (UK) Public healthcare system of the UK Go to source Without first aid, the lack of airflow brought on by choking can cause serious brain damage or even death by asphyxiation. If you or someone else is choking, it’s important to know how to help.

Note: This article covers adults and children over 1 year of age. For children under one year, see How to Do First Aid on a Choking Baby.

You and a friend are eating lunch together and you suddenly see them grab their throat and begin to panic. You realise that they are, in fact, choking. Would you know how to help in this situation?

Choking occurs as a result of a partially or fully blocked airway. Choking in adults most commonly occurs when food becomes stuck in the wind wipe, reducing the airflow and as a result, leaves the victim struggling to breathe. A serious lack of airflow brought on by choking can cause brain damage or even death by asphyxiation.

What is Choking?

In infants, choking often occurs as a result of small toys or objects becoming lodged in the throat or windpipe. Babies especially love to put objects they come across in their mouths such as coins, buttons and other things that can be classed as a choking hazard to infants. It is therefore important that these objects are kept out of reach from infants in order to reduce the risk of them choking. Whereas in adults, the cause of choking is usually from food, perhaps when meals have been rushed.

Choking can also occur as a result of swelling due to a severe allergic reaction and from an injury or trauma. Without immediate first aid attention, the result of choking can be serious and even fatal so it is important to be equipped and prepared. Ensuring you Know what to do if you experienced a victim that was choking could potentially make a life-saving difference.

Signs to look out for that indicate a person is choking will usually be a person’s inability to speak or cough although their face may also change colour. The universal choking sign may be made as the victim will not be able to verbally communicate. Instead, grabbing or pointing to the t hroat will confirm to you that they are choking.

Helping a Choking Adult

If a person’s airway gets severely blocked, they will be unable to cough and without assistance , they will become unresponsive. If you think someone is choking, you can help to clear their throat with the following steps:

  1. Encourage them to cough
  2. Deliver five hard back blows between their shoulder blades
  3. Position yourself behind the victim and administer 5 abdominal thrusts
  4. If the victim is still choking, call 999 for medical assistance

It is important to act fast to try and clear the victim’s airway immediately to allow them to breathe.

Helping a Choking Infant

Sadly, choking is the third most common cause of infant death in the UK. Essential first aid knowledge and knowing what to do in this situation will prevent more deaths from occurring as a result of choking. Additionally, ensuring small objects that could easily become lodged in an infant’s throat are out of reach will help to reduce the risk of infants choking.

Parents have previously been reminded to chop up grapes before giving them to small children as the size and shape of them could potentially block an infant’s airway completely. This was advised in the British Medical Journal following a number of tragic deaths.

If an infant is choking they will usually be unable to speak and they will be struggling to breathe. Follow the vital steps below to ensure yo u are equ ipped to help an infant that is choking.

  1. If you can see the object, try to remove it
  2. If the child is coughing loudly, encourage and stay with them
  3. If the child cannot cough or breathe properly seek immediate medical attention
  4. Deliver five back blows between their shoulder blades using the heel of your hand*

*For infants under one year, deliver back blows with your baby in a face down position, supporting their head. If the airway has not cleared after this, chest thrusts should be given to infants under one year by lying your baby facing up on your thighs. Using two fingers, find the breastbone and place two fingers in the middle, giving five sharp pushes.

For an infant over one, position and support them in a forward-leaning position. If the airway is still obstructed, abdominal thrusts can be given to infants over the age of one.

It is important to seek medical attention even if you successfully clear the child’s airway as part of the object could have been left behind.

Essential Knowledge

If the victim becomes unresponsive at any stage, open their airway and check for breathing. If at any point the victim becomes unconscious, it is important to begin CPR immediately. CPR is an essential life-saving skill that everyone should have. Does your first aid knowledge need brushing up? Explore our First Aid Training options to ensure you are able to provide effective CPR in an emergency situation.

If you have any questions, head on over to our twitter page @imptraining and a member of the team will be happy to assist you.

How to help a choking victim

From the “Basic Life Support” course offered by the National Safety Council. Learn more about NSC first aid and CPR training – including online and classroom training for learners, and courses and materials for instructors. © 2015 National Safety Council

Note: If a rescuer is alone with a conscious victim who is choking, the rescuer should provide care until the object is expelled or the victim loses consciousness. If the person passes out, the rescuer should ensure 911 has been called. (If no one is around to call, the rescuer should quickly make the 911 call.)

  • Place one hand on top of the other in the center of the chest.
  • Compress the chest about 2 inches deep, 30 times, at a rate of at least 100 per minute while counting aloud.
  • Tilt the head and lift the chin to open the airway.
  • Give two rescue breaths, each lasting 1 second. (Look in the mouth each time you open it to give breaths, and remove any object you see.)
  • Continue the cycle of two breaths and 30 compressions until the victim regains consciousness, an AED is brought to the scene or help arrives.

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Give up to 5 blows between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.

2. If Person Is Still Choking, Do Thrusts

If the person is not pregnant or too obese, do abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich maneuver):

  • Stand behind the person and wrap your arms around the waist.
  • Place your clenched fist just above the person’s navel. Grab your fist with your other hand.
  • Quickly pull inward and upward as if trying to lift the person up.
  • Perform a total of 5 abdominal thrusts.
  • If the blockage is still not dislodged, continue cycles of 5 back blows and 5 abdominal thrusts until the object is coughed up or the person starts to breathe or cough.
  • Take the object out of their mouth only if you can see it. Never do a finger sweep unless you can see the object in the person’s mouth.

If the person is obese or pregnant, do high abdominal thrusts:

  • Stand behind the person, wrap your arms them, and position your hands at the base of the breast bone.
  • Quickly pull inward and upward.
  • Repeat until the object is dislodged.

3. Give CPR, if Necessary

If the obstruction comes out, but the person is not breathing or if the person becomes unconscious:

  • For a child, start CPR for children.
  • For an adult, start CPR for adults.

4. Follow Up

When emergency medical personnel arrive, they will take over and may do CPR or take the person to the hospital, if needed.

How to help a choking victim

You and a friend are eating lunch together. All of sudden you see your friend grab her throat – a panicked look spreads across her face as she starts to turn purple. You quickly realize your friend is choking.

How to help a choking victim

What is choking?

Choking is caused when food or some other object blocks a person’s airway and prevents them from breathing. Choking can occur very suddenly in patients of any age. If not rapidly treated, choking quickly leads to death.

Signs of choking

  • Universal choking sign (grabbing or pointing at the throat)
  • Inability to speak
  • Inability to cough
  • Face changing color
  • A panicked look

How can I help someone who is Choking?

How to help a choking victim

  • Send someone to call 9-1-1
  • Take steps to get the object out:
  1. Stand behind the person and bend them down at the waist so they are staring at the ground.
  2. Using the heel of your hand, hit them hard on the back between the shoulder blades 5 times.
  3. Then, have them stand straight up and position yourself behind them.
  4. Wrap your arms around the person’s abdomen. Make a fist with one hand and place it in the center of the abdomen just above the belly button and beneath the breast bone. Grab your fist with your other hand and give forceful inward & upward thrusts into the abdomen 5 times
  • Repeat as needed until the object comes out, and the person can speak, breathe or cough or until they become unresponsive.
  • If they become unresponsive, call 911 and begin CPR.

Note: If a patient is able to cough forcefully and move air, don’t touch them! Encourage them to cough and call 9-1-1 if needed.

For more details on Choking relief and other First Aid emergencies, Enroll in a First Aid CPR AED training class.

How to help a choking victim

When air cannot flow into the lungs, serious brain damage occurs quickly. Brain damage is unlikely within the first 4 minutes without air, but brain damage is possible at 4–6 minutes 1 , probable at 6–10 minutes, and severe at 10-plus minutes.

How a choking incident is treated differs by age. It’s important for caregivers of young children and older adults to know what to do if the person in their care chokes.

Here’s a response guide for choking in babies, toddlers, older adults, adults, and yourself.

While this article is intended to be a resource for caregivers, it’s not a supplement for a certificate and training. The Red Cross is your best place to find up-to-date information.

How to help anyone who’s choking

How to help a choking victim

What to do if a baby is choking

A baby’s windpipe is the size of a drinking straw, meaning their tiny airway makes choking a particularly dangerous hazard.

Feeding time must be closely monitored. The baby should sit up while eating, and their food should be cut into small pieces that are no larger than one-half inch in any direction. Feed the baby small amounts, and don’t rush feeding time. Avoid giving them round, firm foods (like hot dogs, nuts, and grapes) and white bread products, which can become a gum-like paste that gets stuck in their mouth.

Babies love putting anything and everything in their mouth, from coins to pen caps to pet food to balloons. Baby-proofing the home needs to be done on a constant basis with crawlers. Test the home’s safety by getting a “baby’s-eye view.” Crawl on the floor and pick up any potential choking hazards. Vacuuming regularly will help too.

Avoiding trying to find what the baby is choking on. You can push it farther down into the airway and further obstruct airflow. We know it’s tempting, especially if you think you can see it, but if it’s mushy, you might not get your fingers around it (instead making things worse).

Step-by-step instructions for helping choking babies:

  1. Let the baby cough. Coughing is the most effective way to dislodge something from the airway.
  2. Check choking signs. A choking baby may be unable to cough or cry. Typically, a choking baby will open their mouth wide while their skin turns red or blue.
  3. Call 911. Ask someone to call 911 immediately. If you are alone with the infant, call 911 after two minutes of treatment.
  4. Begin back blows. Place the baby face down on your forearm, with their jaw cradled in your thumb and forefinger, and their head settled lower than their chest. Use the heel of your hand to firmly hit the baby’s back five times between the shoulder blades.
  5. Begin chest thrusts. Turn the infant over while still resting your forearm on their frontside. Sit down and place the baby’s back on your thigh, with their head still lower than the chest. Put two or three fingers between the baby’s nipples. Thrust by pushing straight down on the chest 1.5 inches in a smooth motion, and then allow the chest to return. Repeat five times.
  6. Repeat 5-and-5. Repeat five back blows and five chest thrusts. Check the baby’s throat for the choking object after each cycle.
  7. Begin CPR. If the baby becomes unconscious and stops breathing, place them on the flat ground.
  8. Begin chest compressions. This is similar to chest thrusts, but the baby is kept flat on the ground and your free hand is placed on their forehead. Administer 30 chest compressions with your two or three fingers in the center of the baby’s nipples, at a rate of two per second.
  9. Give two rescue breaths. Open the baby’s airway by placing a hand on their forehead and two fingers on the chin. Make a seal over their mouth and nose with your mouth, inhale a normal-sized breath, then blow into the baby’s mouth for one second, making sure their chest rises.
  10. Check airway. If the chest doesn’t rise, the baby’s airway is blocked. Look into the baby’s airway and attempt to dislodge the object.
  11. Repeat cycle. Continue with chest compressions and rescue breaths until the baby stops choking or medical personnel arrive.

Take a public CPR course so you know how to help when someone’s heart stops. If you aren’t comfortable giving CPR, some experts advocate continuing with the back blows and chest thrusts until emergency services arrive.

Finding yourself in a medical emergency with no one around can be a very scary thing. Knowing what to do in these situations can save your life. If you are enjoying a meal by yourself and begin choking, do you know what to do? In this article, we’ll explore ways you can help yourself in a choking emergency!

What to do when you’re alone and choking

If you begin to choke on something when you are alone, don’t panic! Roy Shaw, ProTrainings co-founder and certified paramedic, explains the steps to take to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on yourself when you’re alone and choking.

Call 911 and leave the phone off the hook

Try to cough up the object

Perform the Self-Heimlich

Seek medical help

Alternative choking maneuvers

If the object still will not come out after trying the methods mentioned above, you can use the back of a chair to increase the pressure that you are able to exert. Keep your hands in the same position as with the Heimlich maneuver, but lean your torso over the back of a chair. This should allow you to increase the amount of pressure and dislodge the object.

Another alternative option to try if the abdominal thrusts did not work is a technique that was developed by Fireman and Paramedic, Jeff Rehman, and made popular on YouTube. It looks a lot like a push up, but with a little more upward momentum than is typical and allowing yourself to fall with your arms straight in front of you. This will push the air out of your lungs and hopefully dislodge any obstruction with it. You can watch a demonstration of the technique on YouTube.

Pregnant, alone, and choking

Keep in mind that the maneuvers we discuss in this article will not apply to pregnant women. If you are pregnant, you should place your hands higher than usual, under the breast bone. Another alternative maneuver is to slam your back into a wall while coughing.

Conclusion

Following the steps we’ve outlined could save your life. To review: (1) call 911; (2) try coughing the object up; (3) self-administer the Heimlich maneuver or use a chair to increase the force of the pressure; (4) if necessary, try alternative maneuvers; and (5) seek medical attention.

Preparation in an emergency situation can make all the difference. ProTrainings offers a full range of CPR and safety courses so that you will know what to do in any situation. Check out the full course catalog to make sure you’re ready for an emergency.