Hesperian Health Guides



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When food or something else gets stuck in the throat or airway and a person cannot breathe, this is choking.

If the person is coughing, let them continue coughing but if they cannot talk or cannot cough, you can save a life by helping quickly.

Learn how to help a baby that is choking.

Give back blows
Bend him over at the waist, and give 5 firm blows on the middle of the back, between the shoulder blades. Use the palm of your hand.

If this does not work:
illustration of the above: back blows.
Give abdominal thrusts
Stand behind the person and wrap your arms around his waist.

Put your fist against his belly, just above the navel and below the ribs.

Cover your fist with your other hand and use both hands to pull up and in with a sudden, strong jerk. Use enough force to lift the person off his feet. (Use less force on a small child.) Repeat this 5 times in a row.
illustration of the above: abdominal thrusts.
If there is something blocking air from getting to the lungs or throat, the force of air being pushed so hard should drive it out.
For a pregnant woman or someone who is very fat, put your arms around the middle chest (put your fist between the breasts). Then thrust straight in.

If the person is choking and becomes unconscious

Carefully lay him on his back and look in the mouth. If you can see food or something else blocking the throat, sweep it out with a hooked finger. But do not dig into the throat as this may drive the object in further. Then give rescue breathing.

For a baby younger than one year

If a baby is choking and cannot cry or cough, try to clear her throat with back blows and chest thrusts.

If you cannot clear the airway for a baby, child, or adult, give rescue breathing.


Get the person out of the water as fast as you can and immediately start rescue breathing and chest compressions. Give the rescue breaths first to get some air into the person’s body.

If the person vomits, turn him on his side and gently use your finger or a cloth to wipe the vomit away so he does not choke on it.

Rescue breathing

People can only live about 4 minutes without breathing. You may be able to save someone’s life with rescue breaths if he stopped breathing because he choked, was hit on the head, almost drowned, was electrocuted, overdosed on drugs, or has hypothermia (extreme cold).

If a person stops breathing, you can save his life by giving rescue breathing immediately.

This page was updated:17 Sep 2020