A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

A step-by-step guide to handling choking emergencies

Good food, drinks and company make for wonderful memories with loved ones. Unfortunately, they also set the stage for possible choking emergencies.

“Your risk of choking increases if you’re not chewing your food properly and when you consume alcohol,” said Dr. Suhas Channappa, a Marshfield Clinic emergency medicine physician. “Avoid talking or laughing while swallowing food.”

Young children are at greater risk for choking because they put objects in their mouths out of curiosity, and they often don’t chew food into small pieces.

How to help someone who is choking

If the person is able to cough, encourage them to keep coughing until they get the object out of their airway or until they can talk and feel better. Coughing is the best natural way to clear the airway.

Complete choking happens when the person isn’t able to breathe, cough, cry or speak. Struggling to breathe, turning blue or weak crying in a child are signs that a choking episode is serious. Performing abdominal thrusts (the Heimlich maneuver) or back blows and calling 911 can save a choking person’s life.

Download Choking First Aid Guide



Acting quickly is important. Brain damage starts to happen within 4-5 minutes without oxygen.

Have another person call 911 while you start rescue movements,” Channappa said. “If no one else is around, start rescue movements first. Call 911 if it doesn’t work, then continue the movements until help arrives.”

If you’re choking and you’re alone, you can perform abdominal thrusts on yourself using your fist and a counter or the back of a chair.

See a health care provider after a complete choking episode

Seeing a doctor or letting emergency responders evaluate you after a complete choking episode is a good idea, even if you recover at home.

You probably don’t need medical help if a partial choking episode resolves with coughing and you feel fine afterward.

Related Shine365 posts

Surprising choking hazards in your home

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One Response
  1. Feb 22, 2018

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