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HealthInfo Canterbury

Choking

Important

Phone 111 immediately if the person who is choking can't breathe, talk, or cough, or if they become unconscious.

If they stop breathing, start CPR for children and adults or for babies.

Choking happens when something – often food – becomes stuck in a person's windpipe, blocking it. This makes it difficult or impossible to breathe.

How to tell if someone is choking

Someone who is choking will have difficulty breathing and talking. If their airway is partially blocked, their breathing may be noisy, and it may make them cough. They may be very anxious and frightened.

If their airway is totally blocked, they'll be unable to cough, breathe or speak. They may be using hand signals to point to their throat. Their skin may be pale or turning blue. They'll be very distressed.

Helping someone who is choking

For a partial blockage

If coughing or removing the object doesn't work

Choking first aid

If back blows don't work

Alternate between back blows and chest thrusts until the object has come out or an ambulance has arrived.

If the person stops breathing, start CPR for children and adults or for babies.

How to do chest thrusts

On an adult or child

Stand behind the person wrapping your arm around their chest. Make a fist with one hand with your thumb on the outside.

Place your fist with the thumb side against the middle of their breastbone.

Grasp your fist with your other hand and give five separate quick sharp inwards and upwards thrusts.

On a baby

Lay the baby face up on your forearm or on your lap. Take care to support the head and jaw with your hands. Place your middle and index fingers at the centre of their chest bone (just below the nipple line). Give five separate quick sharp inward and upwards thrusts.

Video demonstration

This video shows you what to do if a baby is choking.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2019.

Sources

Page reference: 284743

Review key: HIFAD-141030