How to help someone who is choking

how to help someone who is choking

Choking is something that can happen to anyone at anytime. You can choke on food, liquid, and even on the saliva in your mouth. Some people may not be able to breath when choking and others may seem to be coughing up a lung. However, you should know how to help someone who is choking.

There are many signs a person may be choking. Someone who is coughing and trying to get a breath is likely choking on something they just ate or drank. Many times someone who is choking will likely be fine if they are coughing, but knowing how to help someone who is choking can’t hurt.

Learning how to help someone who is choking is not really difficult. Providing help to a person who is choking is like giving a person a bear hug, but in reverse and a bit more forceful. You never know when you may be saving someone’s life.

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’ll usually be able to clear the blockage themselves.

To help with mild choking in an adult or child over 1 year old:

  • encourage them to keep coughing to try to clear the blockage
  • ask them 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.

Severe choking: back blows and abdominal thrusts

Where choking is severe, the person won’t be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe. Without help, they’ll eventually become unconscious.

To carry out a back blow on an adult or child over 1 year old:

  • Stand behind them and slightly to one side. Support their chest with 1 hand. Lean them forward so the object blocking their airway will come out of their mouth, rather than moving further down. 
  • Give up to 5 sharp blows between their 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 5 abdominal thrusts.

Abdominal thrusts

Don’t give abdominal thrusts to babies under 1 year old or pregnant women.

To carry out an abdominal thrust:

  • Stand behind the person who’s choking. 
  • Place your arms around their waist and bend them forward. 
  • Clench 1 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 5 times. 

If the person’s airway is still blocked after trying back blows and abdominal thrusts, get help immediately by calling 911 and tell the operator the person is choking. Continue with the cycles of 5 back blows and 5 abdominal thrusts until help arrives. 

If they lose consciousness and aren’t breathing, you should begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) with chest compressions.


Get urgent medical help if the person you’ve helped:

  • has a persistent cough after choking 
  • feels something is still stuck in their throat 

Abdominal thrusts can cause serious injuries. A health professional such as your GP or a doctor in should always examine someone after they have received abdominal thrusts.