What to Do if You or Someone Else is Choking
Keep your cool, follow this advice, and you could save a life
Someone's choking. Do you help — or do you panic and hope that someone else knows what to do?
Why not learn what to do so you become that person? You could save someone’s life in a matter of seconds.
It also pays to know what to do if you're the one who's choking and there's no one else around.
How to know if someone is choking
How do you know for sure if someone's choking? Adults will often make gestures to help you understand their problem. “They’ll grasp their necks with their hands or flail their arms, but children don’t know to do this, so if you suspect choking, act quickly,” urges Marc Leavey, MD, an internal medicine physician in Lutherville, Maryland. “If the victim is turning blue, you have just 2 or 3 minutes before it’s lights out forever.”
If the victim is choking, they won’t be able to cough, speak or breathe. If the person is able to talk or even cough, they’re breathing. Encourage coughing in hopes of dislodging the object.
What to do if someone is choking
Have someone call 911 while you attend to the victim.
First, lean the person forward. Deliver five blows with the heel of your hand to the person's back, between his shoulder blades.
Next, give five quick abdominal thrusts. Here's how:
- Stand behind him and put one of your legs between his legs to stabilize you. (If the victim passes out, this position prevents you from falling with him or on him.)
- Wrap your arms around his waist and find his navel.
- Put a clenched first directly above the navel and below the rib cage. Grab your fist with your other hand.
- With the clenched first, thrust forcefully inward and upward into the abdomen with 6 to 10 quick, hard jerks toward the ears.
Repeat until the person coughs, breathes or forces the object out.
If the object flies out and breathing resumes, don’t call off the first responders. “Paramedics can check the victim to be sure you didn’t cause harm with the thrusts,” says Barbara Caracci, the director of program development and training at the National Safety Council’s first aid programs division. “It’s not uncommon to break a rib or even puncture a lung in the heat of the moment.”
Don't use abdominal thrusts if the victim can speak, cough or breathe, and don't use it on infants or women who are in late pregnancy.
Related: How — and When — to Perform CPR
If you’re the one who's choking
If you're not alone, put your hands around your neck to alert others that you’re choking. If you can breathe at all, try to forcefully cough. A few forceful coughs may be all you need to dislodge the object.
If you’re alone, try not to panic. Call 911. Even if you can’t talk, they should be able to trace your call and send help. Note that if a landline is available, use that. A landline call is easier to trace than a cell phone call.
Lean over the back of a chair and press hard on your abdomen or use your fists to give yourself abdominal thrusts.
Related: 6 Things Not to Do in an Emergency