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Choking in adults - first aid

Call 999 if:

  • The person is choking
  • The person is unconscious

While waiting for the ambulance

If the person is conscious but not able to breathe or talk, remove any obvious obstruction from the mouth.

1. Give back blows

Stand slightly behind the person to one side. Support their chest with one hand and lean the person forward. Give up to five sharp blows between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. Stop after each blow to check if the blockage has cleared.

2. If the person is still choking, do abdominal thrusts

If the person is not pregnant or obese or under one year old, do abdominal thrusts, also known as the Heimlich manoeuvre:

  • Stand behind the person, wrap your arms around the waist, and bend them well forward
  • Place your clenched fist just above the person's navel (belly button). Grab your fist with your other hand.
  • Quickly thrust both hands inward and upward.
  • Continue cycles of five back blows and five abdominal thrusts until the object is coughed up or the person starts to breathe or cough.
  • Take the object out of his mouth only if you can see it. Never do a finger sweep unless you can see the object in the person's mouth.

If the person is obese or pregnant, do high abdominal thrusts:

  • Stand behind the person, wrap your arms around them and position your hands at the base of the breast bone.
  • Quickly pull inward and upward.
  • Repeat until the object is dislodged.

3. Give CPR if necessary

If the obstruction comes out, but the person is not breathing, or if the person becomes unconscious:

Start chest compressions, called cardio-pulmonary resuscitation ( CPR). The technique is different for adults and children.

First aid courses are run by St John Ambulance, the British Red Cross, and the NHS.

4. Follow up

When emergency staff arrive they will take over and may do CPR or take the person to the hospital, if needed. Parts of material that caused the choking may remain and cause complications later. If the person has a persistent cough, or feels something is stuck in their throat, take the person to A&E, an NHS walk-in centre, or their GP.

Preventing choking

  • Don't drink too much alcohol before eating. It may dull your senses, and you might not chew food properly or might try to swallow too large a portion of food.
  • Take small bites. Cut meat into small pieces. Chew your food thoroughly.

WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 23, 2017

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