Choking is a common breathing emergency. The airway may be partially or completely blocked by food or any other object. A choking person can still breathe or speak with a partially blocked airway. A person whose airway is completely blocked can not breathe at all.

A choking person who is coughing forcefully is trying to cough up the object. A coughing person is getting enough air to breathe. Stay with the person and encourage them to continue coughing. If the object cannot be removed, then dial 911 for help.

Clutching the throat with one or both hands is usually considered a distress signal for choking.

A person who can not cough or speak is choking. The airway must be opened at once. A series of quick thrusts to the abdomen is called the Heimlich maneuver.The upward thrust pushes the stomach, which forces the air in the lungs, hopefully removing the object from the airway – like a cork in a champagne bottle.

To give abdominal thrusts – stand behind the victim. Wrap your arms around the victim’s waist. Make a fist with one hand and place the thumb side of your hand against the middle of the abdomen, just above the belly button but below the rib cage. Grab your fist with your other hand and give quick upward and inward thrusts into the victim’s abdomen. Repeat the thrusts until the object is forced out, or the victim becomes unconscious.


  • Victim is clutching his/her throat
  • Victim is coughing forcefully
  • Victim has whistling or high-pitched noise.


  • Encourage forceful coughing
  • Contact the 911 number
  • Perform the Heimlich maneuver

Get more information on the Heimlich Maneuver from the National Institutes of Health.