Choking is when your airway gets blocked and you can’t breathe properly.

When someone chokes, the airway can either be partly or fully blocked. If it’s a mild blockage, they should be able to clear it themselves by coughing. If it’s a severe blockage, they won’t be able to cough so without anyone’s help they’ll lose consciousness.

But if they do lose consciousness, their throat muscles could relax and open the airway enough for you to give rescue breaths ‒ be prepared to give rescue breaths and chest compressions.

Free poster download: what to do when an adult is choking

Watch our video - Choking adults

Choking adult what to look for

If you think someone is choking, ask them: ‘Are you choking?’ to check they’re not suffering from something else. Can they speak, cry, cough or breathe?

If they can, they should be able to clear their throat on their own by coughing, so encourage them to cough.

If they can’t cough or make any noise, it’s serious.

Choking adult what you need to do

Help clear their throat with these three steps. 

Cough it out

  • Encourage them to cough. If this doesn't clear the obstruction, support their upper body with one hand and help them lean forward

Slap it out

Slap it out choking

  • If coughing doesn’t work, help the casualty bend forward.
  • Use the heel of your hand to give up to five sharp back blows between their shoulder blades.
  • Check their mouth to see if there’s anything in there and, if there is, get them to pick it out.

Squeeze it out

Squeeze it out first aid

  • If back blows don’t work, give up to five abdominal thrusts.
  • Stand behind them.
  • Link your hands between their tummy button and the bottom of their chest, with your lower hand clenched in a fist.
  • Pull sharply inwards and upwards.

If they’re still choking, repeat steps 2 and 3 – back blows and abdominal thrusts – up to three times or until you’ve dislodged what’s in there and they can breathe again.

Call for help


If they’re still choking after you’ve repeated these steps three times, call 999 or 112 for medical help.

Once you’ve called, continue steps 2 and 3 back blows and abdominal thrusts  until what’s in there has cleared, help arrives or they become unconscious.

If they lose consciousness at any stage, open their airway and check their breathing.

If they’re not breathing, start chest compressions and rescue breaths (CPR - cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to try to release whatever’s stuck in there. Follow the instructions for treating someone who’s unconscious and not breathing.



Help to save lives - donate now

 Donate collection

Your support enables more people to save lives 

Free mobile first aid app

Free mobile first aid app

Get first aid advice at your fingertips with our free app for Android, Apple and BlackBerry.

First aid kits

First aid kit

Get a first aid kit from our wide range.

Contact and copyright info