What should I do if someone is choking?

Choking happens when someone’s airway suddenly gets blocked, either fully or partly, so they can’t breathe.

This information applies to adults and children over 1 year old.

If you want advice for babies under 1 year old, see What should I do if a baby is choking?

Mild choking: encourage them to cough
If the airway is only partly blocked, the person will usually be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe.

They’ll usually be able to clear the blockage themselves.

To help with mild choking in an adult or child over 1 year old:

encourage them to keep coughing to try to clear the blockage
ask them to try to spit out the object if it’s in their mouth
don’t put your fingers in their mouth to help them as they may bite you accidentally
If coughing doesn’t work, start back blows.

Severe choking: back blows and abdominal thrusts
Where choking is severe, the person won’t be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe. Without help, they’ll eventually become unconscious.

To carry out a back blow on an adult or child over 1 year old:

Stand behind them and slightly to one side. Support their chest with 1 hand. Lean them forward so the object blocking their airway will come out of their mouth, rather than moving further down.
Give up to 5 sharp blows between their shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. The heel is between the palm of your hand and your wrist.
Check if the blockage has cleared.
If not, give up to 5 abdominal thrusts.

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