First Aid

A Detailed Guide to the First Aid for Choking

Ricky Kambray
Ricky Kambray

Do you know what the first thing to do when someone is choking? It’s a terrifying experience that requires immediate action, as every second counts when someone’s airway is blocked. Don’t panic! We’re here to guide you through the key major steps of First Aid for Choking. From assessing the situation to performing life-saving techniques, we’ve got you covered. Imagine the relief of being able to respond confidently and potentially save a life.

We’ll also address common misconceptions and share valuable tips to enhance your preparedness. By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge and confidence to act decisively in a choking situation.

Let’s get started without further adieu.

First, understanding the types of choking and recognising the symptoms of choking are crucial prerequisites to effectively administering first aid for choking. Let’s explore them with a brief overview of choking.

Portrait of young man coughing while choking with tablets in hand.

What is Choking?

Choking is a condition that occurs when an object or a piece of food becomes lodged in the airway, obstructing the flow of air to the lungs. This blockage can lead to severe breathing difficulties and potentially life-threatening consequences if not addressed promptly.

Imagine a scenario where someone is enjoying a meal and accidentally inhales a large piece of food that gets stuck in their throat. This can cause an immediate sensation of choking, as the airway is partially or completely blocked, making it difficult or impossible to breathe. Common examples of objects that can cause choking include small toys, coins, or even items like buttons or pen caps.

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Types of Choking

There are two main types of choking:

  • partial airway obstruction or mild choking,
  • and complete airway obstruction or severe choking.

Identifying the type of choking is important as it informs the kind of assistance required.

How to Identify the Type of Choking?

Identifying Partial Airway Obstruction

  • The person should be able to breathe, although their breathing may sound different due to the narrowed airway.
  • They should be able to cough to try and clear the blockage.
  • If the person is a child, they may cry, indicating that some air is passing through the airway.
  • In most cases, individuals with partial airway obstruction can clear the blockage themselves.

Identifying Complete Airway Obstruction

  • The person will be unable to breathe, and there will be no airflow.
  • They will not be able to cough or make any sounds.
  • In the case of infants or children, they will be unable to cry.
  • Immediate assistance is required in cases of complete airway obstruction, such as choking on water, as the person will lose consciousness without intervention.

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Senior male in a yellow outfit choking in front of a white wall

Signs of Choking

Recognising the below-mentioned signs and symptoms is crucial in identifying a choking emergency.

Coughing or Gagging

Choking often triggers a forceful coughing or gagging response as the body attempts to remove the obstruction.

Always be cautious of choking when coughing and seek medical attention if the symptoms persist or worsen.

Difficulty Breathing

The person may struggle to breathe properly or experience shortness of breath due to the blocked airway.

Inability to Speak or Make Sounds

Choking can make it difficult or impossible for the person to speak or produce any sound.

Panic or Distress

A choking individual may display signs of fear, panic, or distress, often indicated by wide eyes, grabbing at the throat, or a frantic expression.

Ineffective Cough

Despite attempting to cough, the person may be unable to dislodge the blockage, or the coughing may be weak and ineffective.

Bluish Skin or Lips

As oxygen supply becomes limited, the person’s skin, lips, or nails may turn bluish or dusky, indicating a lack of oxygen.

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Common Causes of Choking

Understanding the common causes of choking helps raise awareness and encourages preventive measures to minimise the risk of choking incidents in various age groups.

  • Eating or drinking too quickly.
  • Not chewing food properly before swallowing.
  • Wearing dentures that don’t fit well.
  • Being distracted while eating or drinking, like laughing or moving around.
  • Choking on vomit, especially after drinking too much alcohol.
  • Swallowing foreign objects, which is more common in young children who explore things with their mouths.

According to the report from the Office of National Statistics on choking-related deaths in England and Wales, elderly individuals are at higher risk due to conditions like difficulty swallowing, poorly fitting dentures, reduced saliva, being left alone with food, or being fed too quickly by caregivers.

First aid box on white background

First Aid for Choking

Let’s explore the first aid technique for children over 1-year-old and adults choking.

Choking in Adults and Children Over One

Assess the Situation

Determine if the person is choking by checking if they are unable to speak, cough, or breathe. If the airway is completely blocked, immediate action is required.

Perform Back Blows

When a person is choking, back blows can be performed to help dislodge the obstruction and restore normal breathing. Here is a detailed breakdown of how to perform back blows.


Stand behind the person who is choking and slightly to the side. Ensure that both of your feet are stable and firmly planted on the ground.


Place one hand on the person’s chest for support and lean them slightly forward.

Strike Area

Use the heel of your other hand (the part closest to your wrist) and deliver up to five quick back blows between the shoulder blades. The strikes should be firm but not excessively forceful to avoid causing harm.


Perform the back blows with a quick, upward motion. Each blow should be independent and separate from the others. Allow the person’s body to recoil naturally after each blow.


After each back blow, observe if the person is able to cough, speak, or breathe. If the obstruction is dislodged and the person’s airway clears, encourage them to continue coughing to expel the object fully.


If the obstruction is not cleared, continue delivering back blows in sets of up to five blows, checking for any signs of improvement after each set.

Man delivering heimlich manoeuvre to the woman

Perform Abdominal Thrusts (Heimlich Maneuver)

If back blows don’t work, stand behind the person and place your arms around their waist. Make a fist with one hand, position it above the navel but below the rib cage, and grasp it with your other hand. Give five inward and upward thrusts to force air out of the lungs and help expel the blockage.

Seek Medical Assistance

If the person continues to cough persistently or feels something stuck in their throat after choking, seek urgent medical help.

  • Visit an A&E (Accident and Emergency) department or NHS walk-in centre, or consult with a GP (General Practitioner).
  • Abdominal thrusts can cause serious injuries, so it’s important to have a healthcare professional examine the person after receiving these manoeuvres.

Chest Thrusts for Obese or Pregnant Individuals

If the person is obese or in late pregnancy, perform chest thrusts instead of abdominal thrusts for choking incidents. Position your hands in the middle of the chest and give inward and upward thrusts to dislodge the obstruction.

Repeat Back Blows and Abdominal Thrusts

Continue performing back blows and abdominal thrusts until the obstruction is relieved, the person loses consciousness, or advanced medical support arrives.


If you are alone, you can perform abdominal thrusts on yourself for choking treatment by using your fists or pressing your upper abdomen against the back of a chair or the edge of a counter.

Remember, it is important to seek medical attention even if the obstruction is cleared, as complications may arise.

Close-up of baby biting wine cork found on floor

Choking in Babies Under One

Let’s learn infant choking first aid to effectively respond to choking emergencies involving babies under one year old.

Stay Calm

It’s important to remain calm and composed during the situation.

Identify Choking

If you suspect that a baby is choking, immediate action is required. Look for signs such as the inability to breathe, cry, or cough effectively.

Give Back Blows

If the baby is unable to breathe, cry, or cough, perform back blows. Lay the baby face-down along your forearm and thigh, supporting their head and neck. Use the heel of your hand to deliver up to five sharp back blows between their shoulder blades.

Check the Mouth

Turn the baby over on your thigh to face upward. Use your fingertips to sweep the mouth and remove any visible obstructions. Avoid blindly sweeping the mouth, as it may push the object deeper.

Provide Chest Thrusts

If back blows don’t clear the airway, deliver chest thrusts to the infant by positioning them facing upward on a firm surface. Place two fingers in the centre of their chest just below the nipple line and give up to five firm chest thrusts.

Repeat and Monitor

Continue alternating between back blows and chest thrusts until the obstruction is cleared or medical help arrives. After each set of blows or thrusts, recheck the mouth for any visible objects.

If the baby becomes unresponsive at any point, you should be prepared to administer baby CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation).

Call Emergency Services

If the obstruction persists or the baby becomes unresponsive, immediately call emergency services (such as 999 or 112) for professional medical assistance. It’s essential to seek help even if the obstruction is cleared to ensure the baby receives proper evaluation and care.

Prevention text written on white paper with a stethoscope and glasses with black frame.

How to Prevent Choking?

Remember, prevention is key when it comes to choking incidents. By following the below-mentioned simple steps and remaining vigilant, you can significantly reduce the risk of choking and create a safer environment for everyone, especially young children.

  • Eat mindfully and take small bites.
  • Chew food thoroughly before swallowing to prevent choking on food.
  • Avoid talking or laughing with food in your mouth.
  • Minimise distractions while eating.
  • Stay hydrated by taking sips of liquid between bites.
  • Sit upright while eating to maintain a clear airway.
  • Check food labels for potential choking hazards.
  • Keep small objects out of reach, especially for young children.
  • Store hazardous items safely away from children.
  • Learn first-aid techniques for choking.
  • Supervise children while they eat and play to prevent choking incidents.

Wrapping Up

In essence, knowing first aid for choking can be a life-saving skill. By understanding the types of choking, recognising the signs and symptoms, and being equipped with the proper techniques, you can be prepared to respond effectively in a choking emergency. Remember, prevention is key, so practising safe eating habits and keeping potential choking hazards away can significantly reduce the risk. Stay informed, stay vigilant, and be ready to lend a helping hand when it matters most. Your knowledge and quick actions can make a significant difference in saving lives.


How to help a choking dog?

Perform abdominal thrusts by wrapping your arms around the dog’s belly and pushing firmly up and forward behind the rib cage, or squeeze the abdomen upwards and forwards if the dog is lying down, then seek immediate veterinary assistance.

What to do when choking on saliva?

If someone chokes on saliva, prompt them to cough. If they cannot cough, you should call 911 for immediate medical assistance, as a doctor or paramedic may need to perform airway suctioning to restore proper breathing.

What to do when choking on saliva while sleeping?

If choking on saliva while sleeping, immediately wake the person up and encourage them to cough forcefully. If the choking continues or they have difficulty breathing, seek medical help right away.

How to do the Heimlich Manoeuver on yourself?

To perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on yourself, place your fist slightly above your navel, grasp it with your other hand, and bend over a hard surface. Apply inward and upward pressure with your fist to dislodge the obstruction or until medical assistance comes.

Can a dechoker push food down the airway?

No, a dechoker, choking device / choking rescue device, cannot push food down the airway; its purpose is to remove obstructions safely.

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Ricky Kambray

Hey this is Ricky Kambray an award-winning first-aid trainer with over 20 years of healthcare and teaching expertise. Highly certified general nurse regularly appears in the press discussing accident prevention and first aid advice.