What to do when someone starts choking

Going out to dinner or simply having a meal can be the highlight of a person’s day, but these situations can take an unexpected turn.

Choking happens when an object gets stuck in a person’s throat or windpipe. Most adults experience choking when they eat, according to the Red Cross.

Here are some actions to take if you or another person is choking.

What do I do if I am choking?

  • Do not panic or hesitate to ask for help
  • Call emergency services or 911 immediately
  • It is not recommended that another person drive you to the emergency room, but instead perform first aid as soon as possible

If you suspect a person a choking check for these signs:

  • Trouble speaking or cannot speak at all
  • Trouble breathing
  • Failure to cough
  • Become unconscious     
  • Skin turns blue

How to help a conscious person choking:

  • Give the person five blows to the back with the palm of your hand and hit the space between their shoulder blades
  • Take your fist and place it above the person's navel and use your other to cover your fist
  • Use your fists and push five times upward
  • Follow these two steps until the foreign object comes out

How to help an unconscious person choking:

  • You or another person will need to breathe air into the unconscious choker's mouth
  • Pump the person's chest 30 times by placing both of your hands on the center of the person's chest
  • Use your hands and try to go into the person's mouth and retrieve the object they are choking on

Once these steps are done and if the person is not breathing or remains unconscious, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) will need to be performed.

How to perform CPR:

  • Place your two hands in the middle of the person's chest
  • Perform at least 100 chest compressions every minute
  • Lean the person's head back and tilt the chin upwards
  • Blow air into the person's mouth for at least 1 second 
  • Continue these steps 

If the person remains unconscious, emergency services should be called or use an automated external defibrillator (AED) if it is available.

How can I avoid choking?

It may seem simple, like cutting food up smaller or chewing slower to avoid choking, but there are situations when choking can be sudden in adults compared to children, which is one of the leading causes of death in infants and children, according to the National Safety Council. The council also suggested that adults monitor their drinking in order to avoid choking. In 2015, more than 5,000 people were killed by choking.