Choking – Causes, Signs, Rescue Procedures, And Prevention Tips

Written by Shaheen Naser

Did you know that choking is the leading cause of death in children aged 3 years and younger (1)? From foods to small toys and coins, the causes of choking-related deaths and fatalities are often small objects that get stuck in the throat and block the airways.

Choking can be followed by irreversible death of brain cells in as little as 10 minutes. Hence, it is necessary that you be aware of some quick procedures to help yourself or another person who is choking in your presence. Continue reading to know more about the best rescue procedures that can help save a choking individual.

What Causes Choking?

If a piece of food, any object, or liquid gets lodged in one’s throat, it may cause the person to choke. One of the main reasons for adults to choke is eating or drinking too fast or breathing in fumes.

Children usually choke when they happen to place foreign objects in their mouths.

Some of the common objects that children are known to choke on include (2):

  • Pencil erasers
  • Grapes or cherry tomatoes
  • Candies
  • Popcorn
  • Toys
  • Balloons
  • Coins
  • Hot dogs
  • Carrots
  • Peanuts
  • Large pieces of fruits or vegetables

Common instances where adults choke are when they swallow food without chewing properly or when they laugh while eating or drinking.

How do you identify if a person is choking? Find out in the next section.

What Are The Symptoms Of Choking?

The symptoms exhibited by a choking person may include (3):

  • Rapid coughing
  • Inability to speak, breathe, or make any noise
  • A bluish tint on the lips, nails, or skin due to lack of oxygen

Most people who are choking have their hands on their throats to let others know that they are choking.

If you happen to notice that you are choking and there is nobody around, do the following to get your breath back.

What Should I Do If I Am Choking?


One of the first things you must do if you are choking is to cough as forcefully as you can. This can help in expelling whatever is stuck down your throat.

Another way to help yourself is to thrust one of your thumbs between your belly button and rib cage. Now, using the other hand, push as hard as you can in a quick motion. This exerts pressure on your diaphragm, which, in turn, compresses your lungs and forces the remaining air to push up via your trachea. You can also lean over a sturdy chair while doing this.

If nothing seems to help, it is best to call for medical help as soon as possible.

On the other hand, if someone is choking in your presence, you can do the following to help the person.

What Should I Do If Someone Else Is Choking?


Try performing the Heimlich maneuver on the person who is choking (4). For this, you will have to (5):

  • Stand behind the choking person, with your hands wrapped around their waist.
  • Make the person lean forward.
  • Make a ball out of your fist and place it above the navel of the other person’s stomach.
  • Use your free hand to grip your balled fist and move in an upward motion.
  • Repeat this 5 times.
  • Repeat this for an additional 5 times if the object/food is still stuck down the patient’s throat.

If this doesn’t help, you should perform CPR on the choking patient until medical help arrives. To perform CPR (6):

  • Lay the patient on a flat surface on their back.
  • Kneel beside the patient and place your hand in between their chest, palm down.
  • Place your free hand over the pressed hand and lean a little forward with your shoulders.
  • Push down quickly, 100 times per minute. This procedure is referred to as chest compression.
  • Repeat this method on the unconscious person until they get their breath back or until medical help arrives.

After medical help arrives, the patient is quite likely to be rushed into emergency. Meanwhile, the doctor involved may carry out the following tests to find out the cause of choking.

Tests To Find Out The Cause Of Choking

At the hospital, the doctor may carry out the following tests to find out the cause of choking. These tests will also help to make sure that there is no other object blocking the airways:

  • X-rays to look for objects that could be partially blocking the airways
  • Bronchoscopy to look for any foreign bodies in the airways

The patient may also be put on life support to help them breathe.

Now that you have a fair idea about the different procedures to try out if a person is choking, let’s summarize it all.

First Aid Recommendations

Treatment for a person who is choking at home may vary depending on the person’s age.

  • Try the Heimlich maneuver (also referred to as abdominal thrusts) on adults and children above 1 year. Such thrusts make the chest cavity smaller, compress the lungs, and force air out.
  • If the person happens to lose consciousness in between, it is best to call for medical help and perform CPR (as mentioned above) on them until help arrives.
  • Abdominal thrusts that are firm but gentle can also be administered to babies.
  • If the infant loses consciousness or becomes unresponsive, administer CPR.

It is best to initiate these at-home procedures for choking after calling for medical help, especially if the situation is grave.

Once the medical team arrives, the situation can be managed almost immediately if any remnants of the object are still stuck in the throat. As choking can turn out to be life-threatening, it is best to steer clear of it as much as you can. Here are some prevention tips to help you.

How To Prevent Choking

You can prevent choking in children by taking the following measures:

  • Keep hard foods or any small objects that can block the airways out of your child’s reach. Nuts, seeds, gums, hard candy, and peas are common culprits behind choking in children.
  • Cut foods like sausages, chicken, and grapes into small bits before giving them to your child.
  • Look out for small toys or parts of them like their eyes and nose that your child might be tempted to place in his/her mouth.
  • Other than food items, death by choking in children is commonly caused by rubber balloons (2). Hence, they are best stored out of their reach.
  • Keep away objects like batteries and buttons.
  • Do not allow your child to play sports with food/gum in their mouth.
  • Inform babysitters and older siblings as to what objects and foods should not be given to a child.
  • Instruct your child to chew food thoroughly before swallowing.

The precautions adults can take to prevent choking include:

  • Do not place small objects like pins or nails inside your mouth.
  • Take small bites of your food and chew thoroughly.
  • Know that alcohol can impair your ability to chew and swallow, which, in turn, can also put you at a higher risk of choking.

As we have known for a long time now, prevention is better than cure. This is especially true when it comes to life-threatening situations like choking. Hence, follow the tips discussed above to prevent yourself as well as your little one from choking.

In case you or another person (in your presence) ends up choking, try out the methods discussed above after calling for medical help.

Did this post address all your queries? Let us know in the comments box below.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to die by choking?

If someone is choking and their airways are completely blocked, the brain begins to die in 4-6 minutes. Irreversible brain death can occur in 10 minutes.

Does choking happen immediately?

Choking often occurs immediately after a foreign object or food gets stuck in your throat or windpipe, which blocks the flow of air and cuts off the oxygen supply to the brain.

What to do if you are choking and no one is around?

If you are choking and nobody is around, try out the methods mentioned above like trying to cough out the food/object stuck in your throat or thrusting yourself in between your belly button and rib cage until you can breathe again.

Can a person choke on their tongue?

Choking on or swallowing your tongue is impossible as it is held in place with a small tissue called frenulum linguae. This tissue keeps your tongue in place even during a seizure.

What to do after choking on food?

If you happen to choke on food, you are quite likely to cough it out without much trouble. However, if you are not able to do so, try coughing vigorously so that the food is expelled out quickly. You may also try thrusting yourself in between your belly button and rib cage as discussed in the post.


  1. Prevention of choking among children.” Pediatrics, US National Library Of Medicine.
  2. Characteristics of objects that cause choking in children” JAMA, US National Library Of Medicine.
  3. Choking” StatPearls, US National Library Of Medicine.
  4. The Heimlich maneuver. Best technique for saving any choking victim’s life.” Postgraduate Medical Journal, US National Library Of Medicine.
  5. Abdominal Thrust Maneuver” StatPearls, US National Library Of Medicine.
  6. Treatment of Foreign Body Obstruction of the Upper Airway” Western Journal Of Medicine, US National Library Of Medicine.

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