Help to clear the blockage when someone is choking

Choking happens when someone’s airway suddenly becomes partly or fully blocked so they’re unable to breathe or breathe properly.

If the airway is only partly blocked, the person will usually be able to speak and breathe and clear the blockage themselves by coughing. If the choking is more severe, they will need your help to clear the blockage, otherwise they will eventually become unconscious.

Choking in adults

To help with mild choking in an adult, encourage them to keep coughing and ask them to try and spit the object out if it’s in their mouth.

If the blockage is more severe and the adult is unable to speak, cough or breathe, you’ll need to help with back blows and abdominal thrusts. 

What to do

Firstly, try giving five back blows. To carry out a back blow on an adult:

  • Stand behind them and slightly to one side. 
  • Support their chest with one hand. 
  • Lean them forward so the object blocking their airway will come out of their mouth, rather than moving further down.
  • Then give up to five sharp blows between their shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
  • Check if the blockage has cleared.

If the blockage has not cleared, then give up to five abdominal thrusts. To carry out an abdominal thrust in an adult:

  • Stand behind the person who's 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 back blows and abdominal thrusts don’t clear the blockage, call 999 immediately and tell the operator the person is choking.

Continue with five back blows and five abdominal thrusts until help arrives. If they lose consciousness and aren’t breathing, you should begin CPR.

Do not give abdominal thrusts to babies under 1 year old or pregnant women.

Choking in babies

For babies under one, start by giving them five back blows. To do this:

  • Hold the baby face-down along your thigh with their head lower than their bottom.
  • Hit them firmly on their back between the shoulder blades up to five times.

If this does not dislodge the blockage, give five chest thrusts. To do this:

  • Turn the baby over so they are facing upwards.
  • Find the breastbone and place two fingers in the middle.
  • Push sharply downwards up to five times.

If this does not dislodge the blockage call 999.

Continue with five back blows and five abdominal thrust until help arrives.