What to Do When Someone is Choking

We will only perform the Heimlich maneuver in the case of total obstruction, when the person can't cough, speak, or breathe.

Whether you have choked on something before or not, it is a good idea to learn this technique, because one day you might be able to use it to save someone´s life. Choking is more common than you might think. A piece of food or another foreign object can get stuck in an airway and suffocate someone slowly. It is terrible when this happens to you, or if you’re there when someone else is choking, especially if it is a small child. Below we offer some simple advice which you can use to save a life, by just following a few simple rules.

1. Identify the type of choking

  • Partial obstruction: If the person is making sounds or coughing, this is a good sign. It means that their airway isn’t completely obstructed. Coughing is a defense mechanism that expels pieces of food or other objects from the airway, so it is best to encourage the person to continue coughing. If you can see the object that is obstructing their throat, remove it by using your index finger and thumb.
  • Even if the situation starts with partial choking, you should be aware that this could change to complete obstruction of the airway. If it is a child under one year old, remember that if they are crying and coughing, that is always a good sign.
  • Complete obstruction: the person is not making any sound but is conscious. They cannot cough because the object is completely blocking their airway. This is when the Heimlich maneuver should be used.

2. Using the Heimlich maneuver on adults and children over one year old


Remember to only use the Heimlich maneuver if the person can’t cough, talk, shout, and if they’re conscious, breathe. We must help them immediately in this situation, otherwise the person will lose consciousness. It is important to act quickly but calmly and confidently. It is a simple operation:

  • Stand behind the person, slightly to one side. If you are right-handed, stand a little to your left, and if you are left-handed, a little to your right.
  • Now hold their chest with one hand and bend the person or child slightly forward, so that the object that is choking them will move into the mouth, forward, and not further into the throat.
  • Then give the person 5 blows between the shoulder blades, with the heel of your hand, the part between your palm and your wrist. The blows should be given with some force.
  • After each blow, check if the obstruction has moved.
  • If the airway is still blocked and the person still can’t breathe, give five abdominal thrusts. Make a fist with one hand and place it in the middle of their stomach, and put the other hand over the first. Pull both hands towards you, sharply. Repeat this movement until the object comes out (note, do not use this action on pregnant women, children younger under one year old and obese people).

If the airways are still obstructed after three cycles of abdominal thrusts and three cycles of blows to the back, tell someone to call an ambulance. Never leave the person on their own, and continue with the Heimlich technique.

Babies younger than one year

  • If the baby is not crying or coughing, quickly lie them on their stomach along the length of your forearm or over your legs, with their head facing down. Support their head with one hand.
  • Give five firm blows to the baby’s back with the heel of the hand. After each blow look inside their mouth and remove any obstruction you can see. Never put your fingers in a baby´s mouth if you can’t see and reach the obstruction, as you may push it further into their throat and worsen the situation.
  • If the airway is still blocked, apply five thrusts to their chest with your fingers. After each thrust check if the object has come out of their mouth.

As you can see, this technique is very simple, just keep calm and be sure of yourself. The Heimlich maneuver is effective, and it is worth learning how to do. You might save someone’s life one day.