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Choking adults

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 become unresponsive.

But if they do become unresponsive, 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.

Poster download: What to do if an adult is choking

Watch our video - how to help someone who is choking

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.

Step 1 of 4: 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.

Step 2 of 4: Slap it out

  • • 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.
Slap it out

Step 3 of 4: Squeeze it out

Squeeze it out
  • • 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.

Step 4 of 4: Call for help

If they’re still choking, 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 unresponsive.

If they become unresponsive 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 unresponsive and not breathing.

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