First Aid Basics: What To Do If Someone Is Choking

Lifestyle & Health

Choking is what happens when an object such as a piece of food becomes lodged in the airway and obstructs breathing. It can be mild, when the person who is choking can cough forcefully until the object comes unstuck. Choking is severe when the person can’t cough up the object that is blocking the airway and needs the help of someone who is around.

Note: the instructions below apply only to adults and children older than one year.

What to do if choking is mild

If the choking is mild, someone who is choking is normally able to cough, breathe, speak or cry. Here’s what you can do to help:

  • encourage him or her to continue coughing until the blockage is cleared;
  • ask him or her to spit out the object that was stuck.

What to do if choking is severe

If choking is severe, the person can’t speak or cough and has trouble breathing. If this is the case, do the following:

  • stand behind the person (on your knees, if it’s a child);
  • put one hand on his or her chest and help the person bend forward;
  • use the heel of the other hand to give up to 5 sharp blows between his or her shoulder blades;
  • check if the object has come out.

If back blows didn’t work, perform the Heimlich maneuver (abdominal thrusts):

  • stand behind the person (on your knees, if it’s a child);
  • wrap your arms around his or her waist;
  • clench one hand in a fist and put it just above his or her belly button;
  • take the fist in the other hand and pull inwards and upwards;
  • repeat the whole move up to 5 times;
  • check if the object is still stuck.

Note: if the person is pregnant or obese, place your hands on the middle of the breastbone to perform the Heimlich maneuver, not above the belly button.

You can also try “five-to-five approach” which involves alternating five back blows with 5 abdominal thrusts, checking between blows and thrusts if the object is no longer stuck.

If the person is unconscious, give him or her CPR (only if you know how to do it right; if not, try to get someone who’s trained to do it) until help arrives.

You may know how to give first aid to someone who is choking in theory, but many people are at a loss when such situation actually happens. To solidify your knowledge and be prepared to act fast when someone around you is choking, it’s best to take first aid course, such as the one the Red Cross offers.

Source: Medline Plus, NHS UK, Mayo Clinic, WebMD

READ ALSO: 4 Warning Symptoms Of Hypothermia And First Aid For This Condition


This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.

We recommend