What to do if someone is Choking?

It is important to realize what choking is. Choking means that someone has a full obstruction. They cannot talk, cough, or cry normal sounds. If they can and are struggling to breathe, they likely have a partial obstruction and you should allow them to try and get it out themselves. If they have a complete obstruction, call 911 immediately before attempting to help. You can help while you are on the phone with the 911 operator.

A response to choking depends on age. Anyone over the age of 1 who is choking should be given the Heimlich maneuver, otherwise called abdominal thrusts. This is done by getting behind the person who is standing or sitting. Make a fist with your hand and place it above the choking person’s belly button. Place your other hand around your fist. You are going to then thrust your hands in a J motion going in and then up. Do this again and again until something changes.

The correct response for infants under 1 year of age is different. They have many organs in their small body so we can not use a fist in their abdomen. Instead, sit down while holding a baby in one hand while resting the body on your arm. Have the baby face down holding the face with your hand so the head does not move. You can hold the baby well if you put a leg on each side of your arm. Aim them downward so gravity can also help you get the object out. Use your second hand to give back blows between the shoulder blades of the infant. Give 5 blows. You will want to ensure that your hand leaves the body when doing these blows and hear a sound on impact. Next, flip the baby over and give 5 compressions. This is done so that you circulate blood and the baby does not have any brain damage from choking. Repeat these steps until something changes.

What will change?

  • The person will cough or talk or cry
  • The person will vomit or the object will come out
  • The person will faint or become limp and unresponsive

The first two responses mean the person no longer has a full obstruction and you should stop the Heimlich or back blows. The last response of becoming unresponsive means your situation has changed and you no longer need to be concerned with getting the object out. You need to immediately begin CPR. Full CPR is done even if breaths seem not to be going in.

Remember 911 should be called immediately upon choking symptoms and not to wait until they go unconscious.