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Choking – Adult or Child Over 1 Year Old

Choking occurs when a piece of food, an object, or a liquid becomes lodged in the throat. Children often choke as a result of placing foreign objects into their mouths. Adults normally choke due to breathing in fumes or eating or drinking too rapidly. Most people choke at some point in their lives. It’s usually short-lived and doesn’t pose any real danger. However, choking can be dangerous and cause life-threatening complications.

A person who’s choking may cough continuously until they expel the food or liquid from the throat or airway. However, in some cases the object, food, or liquid lodges in the throat and cuts off the air supply.

A person who’s choking may display an inability to:

  • speak
  • cough
  • make noise
  • breathe

They may also have a bluish tint to the lips, skin, or nails from a lack of oxygen.

The person may also have their hands crossed over the throat to let you know they’re choking.

What Causes Choking?

Children usually choke when they place objects in their mouths. Children normally do this out of curiosity. However, they may also choke when eating too quickly or when talking with food in their mouths.

Common objects that children choke on are:

  • popcorn
  • candy
  • pencil erasers
  • carrots
  • hot dogs
  • chewing gum
  • peanuts
  • cherry tomatoes
  • whole grapes
  • large pieces of fruit
  • large pieces of vegetables

Adults usually choke when swallowing food without chewing properly or when laughing while eating or drinking.

When Should I Seek Medical Attention?

The Five-and-Five Method

Use the Red Cross’s "five-and-five" method to treat a person who’s choking. Use the heel of your hand to hit the person’s back five times between the shoulder blades. Perform the Heimlich maneuver five times. Alternate between the previous two options until the person is no longer choking.

The Heimlich Maneuver

Follow these steps to perform the Heimlich maneuver:

  1. Stand behind the person with your arms wrapped around their waist.
  2. Lean the person forward.
  3. Ball your hand into a fist and place it on the person’s abdomen, above their navel.
  4. Use your free hand to grip your fist and press into the person’s abdomen in an upward motion.
  5. Repeat this method five times.
  6. If the object is still stuck in the person’s throat, then repeat the steps five more times

If the person is unconscious, clear their airway if possible. You can do this using your finger. However, be careful not to push the object further into the throat. Call 911, and then begin CPR.


You should follow these steps to perform CPR:

  1. To perform CPR, you should lay the person down on a flat surface.
  2. Kneel on the side of the unconscious person and place your hand in the middle of their chest, palm down.
  3. Place your free hand over the top of the other, lean forward with your shoulders, and push down quickly. This is called a chest compression.
  4. Repeat this process several times as needed.

Don’t perform the five-and-five method on a child. You should only give a child the Heimlich maneuver.

What Are the Complications Associated with Choking?

The complications of choking include throat irritation, throat damage, and death from asphyxiation.

How Can I Prevent Choking?

You can prevent your child from choking by keeping their play area free of small objects, such as coins, erasers, and building blocks. Chop your child’s food into small pieces, making it easier for them to swallow. Discourage your child from talking while eating.

Prevent yourself from choking by chewing your food completely, avoiding talking or laughing while eating, and keeping water near you while eating.

Content licensed from:

Written by: April Kahn
Medically reviewed on: Mar 08, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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