Choking happens when someone’s airway suddenly gets blocked, either fully or partly, so they can’t breathe.
Mild choking: encourage them to cough
If the airway is only partly blocked, the person will usually be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe. They will usually be able to clear the blockage themselves.
To help with mild choking in an adult or child over one year old:
- Encourage the person to keep coughing to try and clear the blockage.
- Ask the person to try to spit out the object if it’s in their mouth.
- Don’t put your fingers in their mouth to help them as they may bite you accidentally.
If coughing doesn’t work, start back blows (see below).
Severe choking: back blows and abdominal thrusts
Where choking is severe, the person will not be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe. Without help, they will eventually become unconscious.
To help an adult or child over one year old:
- Stand behind the person and slightly to one side. Support their chest with one hand. Lean the person forward so that the object blocking their airway will come out of their mouth, rather than moving further down.
- Give up to five sharp blows between the person’s shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. (The heel is between the palm of your hand and your wrist).
- Check if the blockage has cleared.
- If not, give up to five abdominal thrusts (see below).
Important: Don’t give abdominal thrusts to babies under one year old or to pregnant women.
- Stand behind the person who is choking.
- Place your arms around their waist and bend them forward.
- Clench one fist and place it right above their belly button.
- Put the other hand on top of your fist and pull sharply inwards and upwards.
- Repeat this movement up to five times.
If the person’s airway is still blocked after trying back blows and abdominal thrusts, get help immediately:
- Call 999 and ask for an ambulance. Tell the 999 operator that the person is choking.
- Continue with the cycles of five back blows and five abdominal thrusts until help arrives.
If the person loses consciousness and they’re not breathing, you should begin cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) with chest compressions.
Read about how to carry out Compression-only CPR and CPR with rescue breaths.
Get urgent medical help (A&E, NHS Walk-in centre or their GP if in hours) if:
- they have a persistent cough after choking
- they feel something is still stuck in their throat
Abdominal thrusts can cause serious injuries. Where this potentially life-saving treatment has been necessary, a health professional such as your GP or a doctor in A&E should always examine the person afterwards.