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First Aid for Choking

An estimated 2,800 people die each year due to choking. Choking occurs when any part of the airway is blocked. The airway consists of the throat (pharynx), the voice box (larynx), the windpipe (trachea), and the air passages that lead to the lungs. At some point nearly everyone has some instants of choking. When food or drink “goes down the wrong way” the bodies natural response is to cough. Coughing usually clears the airway. When the airway is so severely blocked that a person cannot inhale enough air to cough out the obstruction, emergency medical attention is required.

There are some first-aid measures you can take to assist a choking person. If the individual is conscious encourage him or her to cough up the obstruction. If the victim can speak or cough, this indicates that some air is getting through. If the person is clutching or grabbing their throat, this usually indicates the inability to speak, a good indication that they are not getting any air. When coughing fails to clear the airway, perform the Heimlich Maneuver.

The Heimlich Institute provides instructions and graphics to assist in the performance of the Heimlich Maneuver for both adults and children. A detailed list of their instructions are below.


From behind, wrap your arms around the victim’s waist.

Make a fist and place the thumb side of your fist against the victim’s upper abdomen, below the ribcage and above the navel.

Grasp your fist with your other hand and press into their upper abdomen with a quick upward thrust.

Do not squeeze the ribcage; confine the force of the thrust to your hands.

Repeat until object is expelled.

Children under the age of 4 are more prone to choking due to the fact that their airways are narrower. Of the 2,800 estimated deaths each year, the majority are children. Performing the Heimlich on children is a far different process then adults.


Lay the child down, face up, on a firm surface and kneel or stand at the victim’s feet, or hold infant on your lap facing away from you.

Place the middle and index fingers of both your hands below his rib cage and above his navel.

Press into the victim’s upper abdomen with a quick upward thrust; do not squeeze the rib cage.

Be very gentle.

Repeat until object is expelled.

If the victim is unconscious start CPR and continue until medical help arrives. Anyone who suffers a sever choking episode, even if they recover without medical help, should see a Doctor as soon after as possible.

Sources: HeimlichInstitute.org

The Canadian Medical Association Home Medical Encyclopedia