First Aid Facts – Choking

What is choking?

Choking is when your airway gets blocked and you can’t breathe properly.

When someone chokes, the airway can either be partly or fully blocked. If it’s a mild blockage, they should be able to clear it themselves by coughing. If it’s a severe blockage, they won’t be able to cough so without anyone’s help they’ll become unresponsive.

But if they do become unresponsive, their throat muscles could relax and open the airway enough for you to give rescue breaths ‒ be prepared to give rescue breaths and chest compressions.

What to look for

If a person is struggling to speak or breathe. Encourage them to clear their throat on their own by coughing. If they can’t cough or make any noise, it’s serious.

What you need to do

Help clear their throat with these three steps.

Step 1 of 4:      Cough it out

  • Encourage them to cough. If this doesn’t clear the obstruction, support their upper body with one hand and help them lean forward.

Step 2 of 4:      Slap it out

  • If coughing doesn’t work, help the casualty bend forward.
  • Use the heel of your hand to give up to five sharp back blows between their shoulder blades.
  • Check their mouth to see if there’s anything in there and, if there is, get them to pick it out.

Step 3 of 4:      Squeeze it out

  • If back blows don’t work, give up to five abdominal thrusts. Stand behind them.
  • Link your hands between their tummy button and the bottom of their chest, with your lower hand clenched in a fist.
  • Pull sharply inwards and upwards.

Step 4 of 4:      Call for help

  • If they’re still choking, call 000 for medical help.
  • Once you’ve called, continue steps 2 and 3 – back blows and abdominal thrusts – until what’s in there has cleared, help arrives, or they become unresponsive.
  • If they become unresponsive at any stage, open their airway and check their breathing.
  • If they’re not breathing, start chest compressions and rescue breaths (CPR – cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to try to release whatever’s stuck in there.