First aid

How to prevent someone from choking

How to prevent someone choking A life saving procedure

In adults, choking usually occurs when food "goes down the wrong way." This means that food has become lodged in the windpipe or trachea instead of being swallowed down by the oesophagus.

If the food becomes firmly lodged in the airway, it can cut off the air supply to the lungs and oxygen to the brain, which is why choking is a medical emergency which needs to be dealt with immediately.

What to do if someone is choking

If the airway is only partly blocked, the person should be able to speak, cough or breathe. Under these circumstances:

  • Encourage the person to cough to try and clear the blockage
  • Remove any blockage from the mouth if you can

If the person is unable to speak, cry, cough or breathe, you have to act quickly. If the blockage is not expelled, they will become unconscious.

  • Give up to five back blows between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand
  • Check the mouth quickly after each one and remove any obvious obstruction

If back blows don't work, and the object is still in place you need to give them five abdominal thrusts. Abdominal thrusts are also known as the Heimlich manoevre.

To do this:

  • Stand behind the person and put both arms around their waist and bend them forward
  • Place a clenched fist above the person's navel and the bottom of the breast bone
  • Place your other hand on top, and pull sharply inwards and upwards with both hands
  • After each thrust, check the mouth for signs of the object

If the blockage is not expelled after three cycles of back blows and abdominal thrusts, call 999 for an ambulance.

Abdominal thrusts can cause injury. People who have been given abdominal thrusts should always be checked out by a docor.

Abdominal thrusts should never be performed on pregnant women, people who are obese or infants under the age of one year old.

This article was published on Thu 27 May 2010

Image © Ovidiu Iordachi -

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