A St John Ambulance Cymru teaching someone how to help an individual choking during a first aid at work training course

How to Perform First Aid on Someone that is Choking

When someone is choking, their airway is partly or completely blocked, meaning they may be unable to breathe properly. They might be able to clear it by coughing, but if they can't you will need to help them straight away. 

What to look for

  • difficulty breathing, speaking or coughing 
  • a red puffy face 
  • signs of distress, and they may point to their throat or grasp their neck

The advice for helping a choking infant is different. For what to do, click here.


What to do

Follow the stops below:

Step 1 

If you think someone is choking, ask them "Are you choking?" If they can breathe, speak or cough then they might be able to clear their own throat. If they cannot breathe, cough, or make any noise, then they need your help straight away. 

Step 2 

Encourage them to cough and remove any obvious obstruction from their mouth. 

Step 3 

If coughing fails to work, you need to give five sharp back blows. To do this, help them to lean forwards, supporting their upper body with one hand. With the heel of your other hand give them five sharp back blows between their shoulder blades. After each back blow, check to see if there’s anything in their mouth. 

Step 4 

If back blows fail to clear the obstruction, give five abdominal thrusts. To do this, stand behind them and put your arms around their waist. Place one hand in a clenched fist between their belly button and the bottom of their chest. With your other hand, grasp your fist and pull sharply inwards and upwards up to five times. Check their mouth again, each time. 

Step 5 

If the blockage has not cleared, call 999 or 112 for emergency help straight away. Repeat five back blows and five abdominal thrusts until help arrives, re-checking their mouth each time.  

If they become unresponsive at any point, prepare to start adult CPR or child CPR if dealing with an unresponsive child. 

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