Choking: learn first aid

Adult first aid for someone who is choking including signs, symptoms and steps to take in an emergency.

What is choking?

Choking happens when an object gets stuck in a person's throat and blocks their airway.

Signs and symptoms of choking

Someone who is choking may be:

  • clutching at their chest or neck
  • won’t be able to speak, breathe or cough

First aid steps for choking

This advice is for helping an adult. Find out:


1. If someone is choking, encourage them to cough.

If the blockage is severe, they may be holding their chest or neck and won't be able to speak, breathe or cough, and you will need to help them.

2. Bend them forwards and give up to 5 back blows to try and dislodge the blockage.

Hit them firmly on their back with the heel of your hand between the shoulder blades.  

Hitting them on their back creates a strong vibration and pressure in the airway, which is often enough to dislodge the blockage. Dislodging the blockage will allow them to breathe again. 

3. If they are still choking, give up to 5 abdominal thrusts: hold around the waist and pull inwards and upwards above their belly button.  

Abdominal thrusts squeeze the air out of the lungs and may dislodge the blockage. 

4. If they are still choking call 999.

Repeat the steps until they can breathe again or until help arrives.

Watch Chloe's story about when she choked at work

Hear about what happened and what Lloyd did to help. Skip to 0:55 for the key first aid steps.  

Common questions about first aid for someone who is choking

What should I do if back blows don't stop the person choking?

If back blows do not dislodge the blockage, stand behind them, join your hands around their tummy and form a fist. Pull your hands sharply inwards and upwards. Repeat up to five times.

This is sometimes called the Heimlich manoeuvre or abdominal thrust. Don’t do this on a child under a year old. 

What should I do if the person becomes unresponsive?

Support them, lowering them gently to the ground and treat them as someone who is unresponsive and not breathing.

Find out how to help someone who is unresponsive and not breathing.


Should I help a child who is choking in a different way to how I help an adult?

Help children more than a year old in the same way as adults. Give up to five firm blows on the back, reducing the force of the blows for a smaller child.

Find out more about how to help a child who is choking.

How do I help a baby who is choking?

Babies under one year old should be held face-down along your thigh with their head lower than their bottom. Hit them firmly on their back up to five times to dislodge the blockage.

Find out more about how to help a baby who is choking.

During life-threatening emergencies, call 999, or for non-emergency medical help, call 111.

Test your knowledge with our First aid app quiz