What to do if someone’s choking

What to do if someone’s choking
Help if someone's choking

What to do if someone’s choking

Would you know what to do if someone was choking? It could be your loved one or a friend, or even a complete stranger, but choking can happen to anyone, anywhere.

When someone’s choking, their airway is fully or partially blocked by an object that has become lodged in their trachea (airway), cutting the oxygen supply to their brain. Effectively, they’re suffocating, and in this situation time is everything. Acting quickly can be the difference between life and death.

How to tell if someone’s choking

  • Can they talk? If they can talk clearly and can breathe normally, they probably aren’t choking. If they are struggling to talk, cry or breathe or can’t talk at all they most likely have something blocking their airway.
  • Ask them if they are choking. It may seem obvious and although they may not be able to talk, they can nod or shake their head to respond. They could be suffering from another medical condition and simply asking them ‘Are you choking?’ can help you act quicker and more confidently.
  • Are they changing colour? If their skin colour or colour of their lips is changing (perhaps to a blue or grey colour) this can be a sign of lack of oxygen and will likely mean that something is blocking their airway.

After you’ve identified that someone is choking or you have reasons to believe someone could be, here’s what to do:

Call for help

Ask someone to call 999 for help or if you’re on your own call them yourselves. It is important that the emergency services are notified straight away so that they can act quickly.

Encourage them to cough

Although the person choking may not be able to talk to you, they can still hear. So tell them to try to cough and they may be able to clear the airway themselves.

Back blows

If coughing doesn’t work and they still haven’t been able to clear the blockage themselves, help them bend forward and give them sharp, firm slaps to the back, in between their should blades with the heel of your hand. This will try to dislodge the blockage forcing it forward into their mouth. Do this up to 5 times – checking with each blow if the blockage is dislodged.

Abdominal thrusts

If the back blows haven’t worked, it’s time to try abdominal thrusts – you must not try these on babies under 1 or pregnant women. Link your hands around them from behind so that your hands are resting on their stomach, just below their chest. Clench your hands together into a fist and pull sharply inwards and upwards. Do this up to 5 times. If they are still choking and appear to have stopped breathing and gone into cardiac arrest, start CPR until help arrives.

It’s important to remember that this advice is for adults and children over 1 year old. For babies, the advice and procedure is very different.

If you’re interested in learning more about first aid and how to help someone who is choking, our Emergency First Aid at Work (EFAW) or Emergency Paediatric First Aid courses cover choking and give you hands-on training.


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