Choking

Small children are most at risk for choking, when an object gets stuck in the airway.

Summary

Small children are most at risk for choking, when an object gets stuck in the airway. Encourage a choking person to cough up the obstruction if they are able. If coughing is ineffective, perform abdominal thrusts and back slaps on children and adults, and chest thrusts and back slaps on babies.

Call an ambulance and start CPR if the person becomes unconscious. Prevent choking by encouraging calm and careful chewing of food at mealtimes, supervising small children when they eat, and keeping them away from small objects and foods that pose a choking risk.

What causes choking?

  • Choking happens when an object, often a piece of food, gets stuck in the airway. Young children and babies are likely to choke on food or something they have put into their mouths.
  • What are the symptoms and signs of choking?
  • A person who is choking may instinctively grab at the throat. He or she may cough and gasp, go red in the face, have difficulty speaking and get very distressed. Coughing might still be possible if there is only a partial obstruction. Complete obstruction will cause a blue, dusky face and unconsciousness.
  • A choking baby may attempt to cry, make strange sounds or none at all.

First aid for choking

If the person is coughing, encourage him or her to keep doing this. Don't interfere - they should be able to cough up the object.
If the person cannot speak, or only has a weak cough, follow the instructions below.

Conscious adult (9 years and older) - abdominal thrusts (Heimlich manoeuvre)

  • If the person only has a weak cough, and indicates by nodding they are choking, give up to 5 abdominal thrusts, followed by 5 firm slaps with the heel of your hand, between the shoulder blades. The person needs to be leaning forward for the back slaps.
  • Check whether the object has dislodged.