Choking occurs when a foreign object becomes lodged in the windpipe, blocking the flow of air. In adults, this is normally a piece of food; in children it can be any small object that they have put in their mouth.


The person may be clutching their hands to the throat and:

  • Have difficulty breathing
  • Have difficulty speaking or coughing
  • Have blue lips and skin
  • Lose consciousness.

What to do

For Adults and children

  • Encourage the person to cough. If the person is able to cough, they should be able to clear the problem themselves.
  • If the person cannot cough, breath or speak – swift action is necessary:
  • Give person up to 5 sharp back blows with the heel of one hand in the middle of the back, between the shoulder blades.
  • If blockage has still not cleared, you will need to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre.

Heimlich manoeuvre:

  • Stand behind the person and put your arms around their waist.
  • Make a fist with one hand and place it between the navel (belly button) and bottom of the breastbone – grasp it with the other hand.
  • Lean the person slightly forward and pull sharply into the abdomen, with a quick upwards thrust. Repeat until the obstruction is dislodged.
  • If the person becomes unconscious, begin CPR.

For infants (younger than 1 year)

  • Lay the child face down along your forearm.
  • Thump on the middle of the back up to five times, gently but firmly, using the heel of your hand.
  • Check the infant’s mouth and remove any obvious obstructions. DO NO do a finger sweep of the mouth.

If the infant is still choking:

  • Turn the child onto their back and give up to 5 chest thrusts, by pushing against the infant’s breastbone using two fingers.
  • If the obstruction does not clear, call for an ambulance and continue with back blows and chest thrusts until help arrives.