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Helping someone who is choking

How can you help someone who's choking?

First, determine whether they're really choking. Signs of choking include:

  • being unable to breathe, cough, or talk
  • clutching the throat
  • collapsing
  • skin turning blue
  • suddenly getting up unexpectedly and leaving the table without saying anything

Ask the person if they are choking. A person may not need help if they can still cough, breathe, or talk. In this case, they can try to cough up the object themselves. Otherwise, call 9-1-1 and perform the Heimlich manoeuvre if you are trained to do so.

The Heimlich manoeuvre

If someone is choking, this simple procedure can save their life. It's described below, but the best way to learn is by taking an accredited first aid course. Please note that this technique is not recommended for infants under the age of 1 year.

If the person is standing up:

  1. Explain what you're going to do so the person doesn't panic.
  2. Approach the person from behind and put your arms around their waist.
  3. Make a fist with one hand with the thumb pointing in. Place your fist along the middle of their abdomen, at the bottom of the sternum, between their belly button and their breastbone.
  4. Put your other hand on top of your fist.
  5. Firmly thrust your hands inwards and upwards.
  6. Repeat steadily until the person coughs up the object they're choking on.

If the person is lying down:

  1. Open the airway by tilting their head up and back (See "Before help arrives – what you can do" for more information).
  2. Remove any objects from the mouth.
  3. Pinch their nose, seal your mouth over theirs, and give 2 rescue breaths (see "CPR" for more information).
  4. After giving the first 2 breaths, check to see if the chest moves up and down. If not, kneel over the person and place the heel of one hand along the middle of their abdomen midway between the belly button and the breastbone. Place your other hand on top of your first hand.
  5. Firmly thrust your hands inward and upward up to 5 times.
  6. Try two rescue breaths again. If the chest does not rise, repeat the thrusts and try again. Repeat until the airway clears.

If the person becomes unconscious, open their airway and begin giving artificial respiration (see "CPR" for more information).

After the person recovers, recommend that they see a doctor to make sure they have not been injured by the Heimlich manoeuvre.

If the person choking is a baby less than one year of age, there is a different procedure to follow. If the baby cannot breathe, cough, or make any sounds, begin by placing them facedown on your forearm so the baby's head is lower than their chest. Support the baby's head in your palm, against your thigh. Be careful not to cover the baby's mouth or twist their neck. Use the heel of your other hand and give up to 5 gentle slaps between the baby's shoulder blades.

If the object does not dislodge, supporting the baby's head, turn them face up on your thigh, again keeping their head lower than their body. Position 2 fingers just below the nipples on the baby's breastbone and give 5 quick chest thrusts. Repeat this procedure until the object comes out or the baby loses consciousness. If the baby loses consciousness, call 9-1-1 if you have not done so already. Do not perform any more back slaps, but start CPR (see below). Continue to do so until the baby wakes up or help arrives.

Safety note: You may be at risk of contracting diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C if you come in contact with the choking person's blood (for example, if there are sores, blood, or broken skin in either person's mouth). You may wish to use a CPR mask to protect yourself. You may want to purchase a mask and keep it in your bag or in the car so you'll be prepared wherever you go.

*Please note that this health feature is intended to provide a general overview of how to help someone who is choking. It is not intended as a substitute for proper training through a certified first aid course. If you are interested in providing first aid, please contact your local St. John Ambulance, Life Saving Society, or Red Cross to enroll in a first aid course.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

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