A choking person’s airway may be completely or partially blocked. A complete blockage is an urgent medical emergency. A partial obstruction can quickly become life threatening if the person loses the ability to breathe in and out sufficiently. Without oxygen, permanent brain damage can occur in as little as 4 minutes. Rapid first aid for choking can save a life.
The universal distress signal for choking is grabbing the throat with one or both hands.
DO NOT perform first aid if the person is coughing forcefully and able to speak – a strong cough can dislodge the object on its own.
1. Ask the person:
"Are you choking?"
"Can you speak?"
2. Send someone to call 911 or your local emergency number.
3. Lean the person forward and give them 5 blows to the back with the heel of your hand.
4. Stand behind the person and wrap your arms around the person’s waist.
5. Make a fist with one hand. Place the thumb side of your fist just above the person’s navel, well below the breastbone.
6. Grasp the fist with your hand.
7. Make 5 quick, upward and inward thrusts with your fists.
8. Alternate between 5 blows to the back and 5 thrusts to the abdomen until the object is dislodged or the person loses consciousness.
Performing first aid for a choking child is very similar to an adult. If the child does not clearly grab their throat other danger signs for a child and an adult include:
1. Send someone to call 911 or your local emergency number.
2. Lean the child forward and make 5 blows to their back with the heel of your hand.
3. If this does not work, stand behind the child and wrap your arms around the child’s waist.
4. Make a fist with one hand. Place the thumb side of your fist just above the child’s navel, well below the breastbone.
5. Grasp the fist with your hand.
6. Make 5 quick, upward and inward thrusts with your fists.
7. Alternate between 5 blows to the back and 5 thrusts to the abdomen thrusts until the object is dislodged or the child loses consciousness.
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.