Choking occurs when a foreign object becomes lodged in the throat or windpipe, blocking the flow of air. In adults, a piece of food often is the culprit. Young children often swallow small objects. Because choking cuts off oxygen to the brain, administer first aid as quickly as possible.

If choking is occurring, the Red Cross recommends a “five-and-five” approach to delivering first aid:

  • Give 5 back blows. First, deliver five back blows between the person’s shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
  • Give 5 abdominal thrusts. Perform five abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich maneuver).
  • Alternate between 5 blows and 5 thrusts until the blockage is dislodged.

The American Heart Association doesn’t teach the back blow technique, only the abdominal thrust procedures. It’s OK not to use back blows, if you haven’t learned the technique. Both approaches are acceptable.


How To Perform Abdominal Thrusts (Heimlich Maneuver) On Someone Else:

  • Stand behind the person. Wrap your arms around the waist. Tip the person forward slightly.
  • Make a fist with one hand. Position it slightly above the person’s navel.
  • Grasp the fist with the other hand. Press hard into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust — as if trying to lift the person up.
  • Perform a total of 5 abdominal thrusts, if needed. If the blockage still isn’t dislodged, repeat the five-and-five cycle.

If you’re the only rescuer, perform back blows and abdominal thrusts before calling your local emergency number for help. If another person is available, have that person call for help while you perform first aid.

If the person becomes unconscious, perform standard CPR with chest compressions and rescue breaths.


How To Perform Abdominal Thrusts (Heimlich Maneuver) On Yourself:


First, if you’re alone and choking and you have a landline phone, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Then, although you’ll be unable to effectively deliver back blows to yourself, you can still perform abdominal thrusts to dislodge the item.

  • Place a fist slightly above your navel.
  • Grasp your fist with the other hand and bend over a hard surface — a countertop or chair will do.
  • Shove your fist inward and upward.

How To Clear The Airway Of An Unconscious Person:


  • Lower the person on his or her back onto the floor.
  • Clear the airway. If there’s a visible blockage at the back of the throat or high in the throat, reach a finger into the mouth and sweep out the cause of the blockage. Be careful not to push the food or object deeper into the airway, which can happen easily in young children.
  • Begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if the object remains lodged and the person doesn’t respond after you take the above measures. The chest compressions used in CPR may dislodge the object. Remember to recheck the mouth periodically.