A choking person’s airway may be completely or partially blocked. A complete blockage is an urgent medical emergency. A partial obstruction can quickly become life threatening if the person loses the ability to breathe in and out sufficiently. Without oxygen, permanent brain damage can occur in as little as 4 minutes. Rapid first aid for choking can save a life.
The universal distress signal for choking is grabbing the throat with one or both hands.
DO NOT perform first aid if the person is coughing forcefully and able to speak – a strong cough can dislodge the object on its own.
1. Ask the person:
"Are you choking?"
"Can you speak?"
2. Stand behind the person and wrap your arms around the person’s waist.
3. Make a fist with one hand. Place the thumb side of your fist just above the person’s navel, well below the breastbone.
4. Grasp the fist with your hand.
5. Make quick, upward and inward thrusts with your fists.
6. Continue thrusts until the object is dislodged or the person loses consciousness.
If the person becomes unconscious, lower person to the floor, call 911, and begin CPR. If you see the object blocking the airway, try to remove it.
Performing first aid for a choking child is very similar to an adult. If the child does not clearly grab their throat other danger signs for a child and an adult include:
- Inability to speak
- Weak, ineffective coughing
- Noisy breathing or high-pitched sounds while inhaling
- Difficulty breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Loss of consciousness if blockage is not cleared
1. Stand behind the child and wrap your arms around the child’s waist.
2. Make a fist with one hand. Place the thumb side of your fist just above the child’s navel, well below the breastbone.
3. Grasp the fist with your hand.
4. Make quick, upward and inward thrusts with your fists.
5. Continue thrusts until the object is dislodged or the child loses consciousness.
If the child becomes unconscious, lower child to the floor, call 911, and begin CPR. If you see the object blocking the airway, try to remove it.
Review Date: 7/8/2009
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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