Choking occurs when a piece of food, an object, or a liquid blocks the throat. Children often choke as a result of placing foreign objects into their mouths. Adults can choke from breathing in fumes or eating or drinking too rapidly.

Most people choke at some point in their lives. It’s usually short-lived and doesn’t pose any real danger. However, choking can be dangerous and cause life-threatening complications.

A person who’s choking may cough continuously until they expel the food or liquid from their throat or airway. However, in some cases, the object, food, or liquid gets stuck in the throat and cuts off the air supply.

A person who’s choking may display an inability to:

  • speak
  • cough
  • make noise
  • breathe

They may also have a bluish tint to the lips, skin, or nails from a lack of oxygen.

The person may cross their hands over their throat to let you know that they’re choking.

Children usually choke from placing objects in their mouths. They normally do this out of curiosity. However, they may also choke when eating too quickly or when talking with food in their mouths.

Common objects that children choke on are:

  • popcorn
  • candy
  • pencil erasers
  • carrots
  • hot dogs
  • chewing gum
  • peanuts
  • cherry tomatoes
  • whole grapes
  • large pieces of fruit
  • large pieces of vegetables

Adults usually choke when swallowing food without chewing properly or when laughing while eating or drinking.

Use the Red Cross’ “five-and-five” method to treat a person who’s choking: Hit the person’s back with the heel of your hand five times between the shoulder blades. Next, perform the Heimlich maneuver five times. Alternate between the two until the person is no longer choking.

Don’t perform the five-and-five method on a child. You should only give a child the Heimlich maneuver.

The Heimlich maneuver

Follow these steps to perform the Heimlich maneuver:

  1. Stand behind the person with your arms wrapped around their waist.
  2. Lean the person forward.
  3. Ball your hand into a fist and place it on the person’s abdomen, above their navel.
  4. Use your free hand to grip your fist and press into the person’s abdomen in an upward motion.
  5. Repeat this method five times.
  6. If the object is still stuck in the person’s throat, repeat these steps five more times.

If the person is unconscious, clear their airway if possible. You can do this using your finger. However, be careful not to push the object further into the throat. Call 911 or your local emergency services, and then begin CPR.

Get more information on how to perform the Heimlich maneuver, including links to videos that show how it’s done.

CPR

You should follow these steps to perform CPR:

  1. Lay the person down on their back, on a flat surface.
  2. Kneel on the side of the unconscious person and place your hand in the middle of their chest, palm down.
  3. Place your free hand over the top of the other. Lean forward with your shoulders and push down quickly, 100 times per minute. This is called chest compression.
  4. Repeat this process until the person starts breathing again or medical help gets there.

The complications of choking include throat irritation, throat damage, and death from asphyxiation.

You can prevent your child from choking by keeping their play area free of small objects, such as coins, erasers, and building blocks. Chop your child’s food into small pieces, making it easier for them to swallow. Discourage your child from talking while eating.

Prevent yourself from choking by chewing your food completely, avoiding talking or laughing while eating, and keeping water near you while eating.