In adults, choking is usually caused by food lodged in the throat or windpipe. Victims will instinctively grab at the throat and may panic, wheeze or gasp for breath.

If a person can cough and speak and has normal skin color, he or she is getting air and is not choking. Encourage the person to continue coughing to resolve the partial blockage. Do not hit him on the back or try to give water.

If the person cannot cough or speak, the windpipe is blocked and he is choking and needs emergency help.

The Heimlich Maneuver

The Heimlich maneuver is an abdominal thrust that forces air up and out with enough force to clear the airway. The procedure can be used on adults and children one year and older.

To perform the Heimlich maneuver:

  • Stand behind the victim and wrap your arms around his waist, bending him slightly forward. 
  • Place a fist just above the vicitm’s navel. Cover your fist with the other hand and begin squeezing with quick, hard thrusts into the abdomen inward and upward. 
  • Continue until the obstruction is cleared and the person is able to breathe. 

The Heimlich maneuver can be adapted to other circumstances, such as with babies younger than 1 year, pregnant or obese people, or with a person who has lost consciousness.  

  • For obese and pregnant victims, put your hands at the base of their breastbones, right where the lowest ribs join together.
  • For infants, hold the baby face down on your forearm. Thump the baby on the back five times. If he does not begin breathing, turn him over with the head positioned lower than the body. Using two fingers, compress his breastbone five times. 
  • The procedure can be done on yourself if you are choking and alone. Give yourself abdominal thrusts, or stand over the back of a chair or counter and press against it hard to dislodge the airway obstruction. 

Choking is an emergency. Call for help. Don’t try to drive the victim to a hospital!