How to help when somebody’s choking?

Want to save a life? Here's how! (source:

Choking occurs when your wind-pipe(which normally only carries air to and from the lungs) is blocked due to a foreign object. These foreign objects most commonly include food items (such as chicken bone, popcorn, grapes, nuts, candy among others) or objects such as coins, toys or even button batteries.

Choking seems like a phenomenon that occurs quite frequently and only causes some simple coughing which gets the food out. However, if the foreign object completely blocks the airway, we cannot breathe, our body is deprived of oxygen and this can be fatal. Thus, in reality choking is actually a medical emergency, and according to Injury Facts 2017, is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death. This is why it is extremely crucial for every person to know how to deal with a person who is choking. You don’t have to be a doctor to save a life, you might just do it by knowing all the right techniques.

How can we tell if someone is choking?

The symptoms of choking include the following, so be on the lookout for these:

  • Universal Choking Sign-Grabbing onto the throat/neck with one or both hands.
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing(breathing accompanied by a whistling sound)
  • Gagging
  • Sudden look of panic
  • Abrupt inability to speak
  • Fainting
  • Eventually, you may start noticing blue coloration of the skin (cyanosis)- mainly around lips, face and fingertips. This is a sign of severe lack of oxygen.

In infants, it is a bit more difficult to assess, but you must be alert when signs such as weak cry, weak coughing and shortness of breath.

How do I help an adult who is choking?

  1. Some coughing during eating is normal occasionally. However, it is important to make sure that the person is actually choking. Look for all the signs and symptoms of choking- are they pointing towards their throat? Are they having difficulty breathing? Does their skin seem to be appearing bluish? You can also ask them whether they require help. If they motion yes, then begin the following immediately.
  2. If there is someone else nearby, ask them to call the emergency health-line number immediately. If no one is around, attempt to help by yourself immediately and if it doesn’t work even after 2 minutes of trying, then call.
  3. Give back blows- wrap your less dominant hand over their chest. Bend them over their waist. Then use your dominant hand to give them 5 firm blows in between the two scapulae the shoulder blades.)
  4. If that doesn’t help, you need to begin the Heimlich maneuver(abdominal thrusts). If you are standing, then inset one of your legs in between their legs in order to support them in case they happen to pass out. Clench the fingers of one hand into a fist and keep it in front of their abdomen with the back of the thumb towards your belly button. Then grasp the fist with your other hand over it. Then pull your fist inward and upward quickly 5 times.
  5. Repeat this cycle of 5 back blows and 5 abdominal thrusts until the foreign object is removed.
  6. If the person stops breathing or becomes unconscious, begin CPR immediately.

How to help a baby that is choking?

The steps 1,2,5 and 6 are the same as above, but the technique of back blow and abdominal thrust is a bit different in babies.

Back blows- take the baby into your arms and with his face down on your forearm. Use the index finger and middle finger of the same hand to support the baby’s jaw and keep his mouth open. Make sure the baby’s head is at a lower level than their chest. Use the heel of your other hand and give 5 firm blows between his shoulder blades.

Instead of abdominal thrusts, we prefer chest thrusts in case of babies. After giving back blows, turn the baby over and place the baby’s back on your thigh. Make sure the baby’s head is lower than the level of his chest. Using 2-3 fingers, push down straight, firmly midway between the baby’s nipples. Do this 5 times. Repeat 5 back blows and 5 chest thrusts.

What do I do if I am choking?

If you are choking, try to cough and get out the object. Call the paramedics and you can then self-administer abdominal thrusts to yourself in the same way you would do it to another person.


Chase Stokes

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