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, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.