In a choking emergency, you can use a technique called the Heimlich maneuver to deliver abdominal thrusts, clear a blocked airway, and potentially save a life.
Mass General Brigham emergency medicine doctor Wendy Macias-Konstantopoulos, MD, describes when you should use the Heimlich maneuver in a choking emergency and walks through step-by-step instructions.
If you suspect someone is choking, call 9-1-1 to get help and relay the situation.
If another person is present, one of you should try to help the choking person while the other dials 9-1-1.
The Heimlich maneuver should not be performed on someone who can still talk, breathe, or cough.
Here’s what you can do:
If a person can’t talk, breathe, or cough:
If blows to the back don’t clear the blockage, perform abdominal thrusts. Here’s how:
If the person still can’t breathe, talk, or cough, continue giving 5 back blows followed by 5 abdominal thrusts until you clear the blockage or help arrives.
Give 5 chest thrusts to breastbone (middle of the chest) instead of the abdomen when trying to clear the airway of a pregnant or obese person.
Using the Heimlich maneuver (abdominal thrusts) is not recommended for infants 12 months or younger. To clear a blockage from a choking baby or infant:
If the airway is still blocked, try chest thrusts:
Hopefully these actions clear the blockage in a choking baby. If they don’t, call 9-1-1 if this has not already been done and attempt abdominal and chest thrusts again.
If you’re alone and choking, you can use the same technique described above:
You can also bend over a hard surface, like a countertop or chair back, and shove yourself into it to create a similar upward force on your lungs.
If you’re choking, alone, and can’t talk or easily reach another person:
Young children have a high risk for choking. You can do a lot to prevent your child from choking by following these simple steps:
The Heimlich maneuver and the other emergency choking response techniques are taught in choking safety courses around the world. They are considered basic first aid, can be learned easily by anyone, and can save a life if they are confidently applied in an emergency choking situation.