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Medical Treatment for Choking: Your Essential Guide

Updated: Aug 17


Choking is a serious medical emergency that can happen to anyone, regardless of age or health status. It occurs when a foreign object, such as food, gets lodged in the throat or windpipe, blocking the flow of air to the lungs. Choking can lead to severe complications, including brain damage or even death, if not treated promptly and correctly.


Medical treatment for choking involves a range of techniques that aim to remove the obstruction and restore normal breathing. These techniques include the Heimlich maneuver, back blows, and chest thrusts, among others.

choking

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However, the type of treatment used depends on the severity and cause of the choking episode, as well as the patient's age and physical condition. It is essential to know the right medical treatment for choking, as it can save someone's life in a matter of seconds.


Signs and Symptoms of Choking


Choking occurs when an object gets lodged in the throat or windpipe, blocking the flow of air. It is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate intervention. The signs and symptoms of choking can vary depending on the severity of the obstruction and the age of the person affected.


Signs of Choking


The following are some common signs of choking:

  • Inability to speak or cry out

  • Clutching or grabbing the throat

  • Gagging or coughing

  • Wheezing or noisy breathing

  • Blue or dusky skin color

  • Loss of consciousness

If someone is showing any of these signs, it is important to act quickly and provide first aid.


Symptoms of Choking


The symptoms of choking include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

  • Pain or discomfort in the chest or abdomen

  • Persistent cough

  • Hoarseness or changes in voice

  • Stridor (high-pitched sound when breathing in)

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.


What to Do if Someone is Choking


If someone is choking, it is important to act quickly to prevent serious injury or death. The following steps can help:

  1. Call for emergency medical help immediately.

  2. Encourage the person to cough to try and dislodge the object.

  3. If coughing is not effective, perform the Heimlich maneuver.

  4. If the person becomes unconscious, begin CPR.

Remember, choking is a serious medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Knowing the signs and symptoms of choking and how to respond can help save a life.


Choking Risks and Causes

Knowing what to do when someone is choking can save a life. Our guide on choking first aid provides step-by-step instructions on how to respond.


Choking occurs when an object gets stuck in the throat or windpipe, blocking the flow of air. It is a medical emergency that can result in death if not treated promptly.


People of all ages can choke, but young children and older adults are at a higher risk. Infants and young children are more prone to choking because they have smaller airways and are still learning to eat. Adults, on the other hand, are more likely to choke due to medical conditions or eating too quickly.


Some common causes of choking include:

  • Eating too quickly or not chewing food properly

  • Drinking alcohol before or during a meal

  • Talking or laughing while eating

  • Swallowing large pieces of food or not cutting food into small enough pieces

  • Eating while lying down or in a reclined position

  • Medical conditions that affect swallowing, such as dysphagia or Parkinson's disease

Young children are also at risk of choking on small objects, such as toys or coins. Parents and caregivers should be vigilant about keeping small objects out of reach and supervising young children during meals and playtime.


Choking can be a dangerous and life-threatening situation. It is important to take steps to prevent choking, such as cutting food into small pieces and chewing thoroughly, avoiding talking or laughing while eating, and supervising young children during meals and playtime. If choking does occur, seek medical attention immediately.


Common Choking Hazards

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Choking can happen when an object gets stuck in the throat or windpipe, blocking the flow of air. Children under the age of 5 are at an increased risk of choking due to cognitive development and anatomical differences. Here are some common choking hazards:


Food


Food is a common cause of choking in adults. Small, round, or hard foods such as popcorn, candy, raw carrots, and hard candy can easily get stuck in the windpipe. Peanut butter can also pose a choking hazard, especially for children.


Hot Dogs


Hot dogs are a common choking hazard for children under the age of 5. They are the perfect size and shape to get lodged in the throat and windpipe.


Grapes


Grapes are another common choking hazard for children. They are small and round, making them easy to swallow whole and get stuck in the throat.


Nuts


Nuts are a choking hazard for both adults and children. They are small, hard, and can easily get lodged in the throat.


Small Objects


Small objects such as coins, marbles, and small toys can also pose a choking hazard, especially for young children. Keep these items out of reach and supervise children when they are playing.


Latex Balloons


Latex balloons can also pose a choking hazard, especially for young children. When a balloon pops in the mouth, it can easily get lodged in the throat.


It is important to be aware of these common choking hazards and take steps to prevent choking incidents. Cut food into small pieces, supervise children when they are eating, and keep small objects out of reach.


Emergency Response to Choking


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Choking is a medical emergency that requires immediate action. If someone is choking and cannot cough, speak, or breathe, call 911 or your local emergency number right away.


The Heimlich maneuver, also known as abdominal thrusts, is the most common emergency treatment for choking. To perform the Heimlich maneuver on an adult or child who is conscious, stand behind the person and wrap your arms around their waist. Make a fist with one hand and place it slightly above their navel, then grasp your fist with your other hand and press inward and upward. Repeat this motion until the object is dislodged.


If the person is unconscious, begin CPR, starting with back blows and abdominal thrusts. Place the person on their back and kneel beside them, then use the heel of your hand to deliver five back blows between their shoulder blades. If the object is still lodged, perform five abdominal thrusts by placing your hands on the person's abdomen, just above their navel, and pressing inward and upward.


If the person is still choking and unconscious, begin chest compressions. Place the heel of one hand on the center of the person's chest, between their nipples, and place your other hand on top of your first hand. Press down firmly and quickly, allowing the chest to rise back up between compressions. Perform 30 chest compressions, then open the person's airway by tilting their head back and lifting their chin. Pinch their nose shut and give two breaths into their mouth. Repeat the cycle of 30 compressions and two breaths until the object is dislodged or emergency medical help arrives.


It is important to note that the steps for emergency response to choking may differ for infants and pregnant women. Additionally, if the person is able to cough or speak, encourage them to keep coughing until the object is dislodged. If the person is still choking after attempting the Heimlich maneuver or CPR, seek emergency medical attention immediately.


Choking First Aid for Different Age Groups


Choking can happen to anyone, regardless of their age or health condition. Knowing how to administer first aid for choking can save someone's life. However, the approach to choking first aid may differ depending on the age group of the person choking.


Adults


For adults, the Heimlich maneuver is the recommended first aid technique for choking. This technique involves standing behind the person choking, making a fist with one hand and placing it just above the person's navel, then grasping the fist with the other hand and pressing into the person's abdomen with a quick upward thrust. Repeat this thrust until the object is expelled or the person becomes unconscious.


Children


For children over one year old, the Heimlich maneuver can also be used. However, if the child is unable to stand, you can perform the maneuver while the child is sitting or lying down. For infants under one year old, the recommended first aid technique is back blows and chest thrusts.


To perform back blows, hold the infant face down on your forearm, with their head lower than their chest, and deliver five sharp blows to the back between the shoulder blades. If the object is still lodged, perform chest thrusts by placing two fingers on the infant's breastbone and giving five quick thrusts.


Infants


For infants under one year old, the recommended first aid technique is back blows and chest thrusts. To perform back blows, hold the infant face down on your forearm, with their head lower than their chest, and deliver five sharp blows to the back between the shoulder blades. If the object is still lodged, perform chest thrusts by placing two fingers on the infant's breastbone and giving five quick thrusts.


Pregnant Women


Pregnant women who are choking should receive the same first aid treatment as non-pregnant adults. However, care should be taken to avoid putting pressure on the woman's abdomen during the Heimlich maneuver. Instead, place your hands higher up on the chest, just below the breastbone.


Obese Individuals


Obese individuals who are choking should also receive the same first aid treatment as non-obese adults. However, care should be taken to adjust the position of your hands during the Heimlich maneuver to accommodate the person's larger size. You may need to place your hands higher up on the chest, just below the breastbone, to deliver effective thrusts.


Remember, if the person choking becomes unconscious, start CPR immediately and call for emergency medical services.


Preventing Choking


Choking can be a scary experience, but there are steps you can take to prevent it from happening.


Food Preparation


One of the most important steps in preventing choking is properly preparing food. Cut food into small pieces and chew it slowly and thoroughly, especially if you wear dentures. Don't laugh or talk while chewing and swallowing. Avoid drinking lots of alcohol before and during meals, as it can increase your risk of choking.


Supervision


Supervising children while they eat is crucial in preventing choking. Children under the age of 5 are at an increased risk of choking due to cognitive development and anatomical differences. Keep small objects and hazards out of their reach and supervise them closely while they eat.


First Aid Training


Knowing how to perform first aid in the event of choking can save a life. The Red Cross offers courses on choking prevention and first aid training that can help you be prepared in case of an emergency.

Other Tips

Here are some additional tips to help prevent choking:

  • Avoid eating while lying down or reclining

  • Don't eat too quickly

  • Avoid talking or laughing with food in your mouth

  • Don't eat while driving or doing other activities that can be distracting

By following these steps and being aware of the risks, you can greatly reduce your risk of choking.

Post-Choking Care and Medical Attention


After successfully dislodging the object that caused choking, it is still important to seek medical attention. Even if the individual seems fine, there may be underlying damage to the throat or lungs that require medical treatment.


If the individual is experiencing any breathing difficulties, chest pain, or persistent coughing, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. In some cases, choking can cause injuries such as bruising or swelling in the throat or even broken ribs from the Heimlich maneuver.


If the individual was unconscious during the choking incident, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Loss of consciousness during choking can result in a lack of oxygen to the brain, which can cause brain damage or even death.


It is also important to monitor the individual for any signs of infection, especially if the choking incident caused any damage to the skin or throat. If there is any redness, swelling, or discharge, seek medical attention immediately as this could be a sign of infection.


Individuals who experience frequent choking incidents should also seek medical attention to determine if there are any underlying medical conditions that may be causing the choking. Medical conditions such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can cause frequent choking incidents and require medical treatment.


In summary, seeking medical attention after a choking incident is crucial to ensure that there are no underlying medical conditions or injuries that require treatment. If you or someone you know experiences a choking incident, seek medical attention immediately.


Choking Related Medical Conditions


Choking can be caused by a variety of medical conditions, including muscular dystrophy and dysphagia.


Muscular Dystrophy: Muscular dystrophy is a genetic disorder that causes progressive muscle weakness and degeneration. It can affect the muscles used for swallowing, leading to difficulty in swallowing and an increased risk of choking.


Dysphagia: Dysphagia is a medical condition that affects the ability to swallow. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including neurological disorders, cancer, and certain medications. Dysphagia can increase the risk of choking, as food and liquids can get caught in the throat.


If you have a medical condition that affects your ability to swallow, it is important to talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk of choking. Your doctor may recommend changes to your diet or refer you to a speech therapist who can teach you techniques to improve your swallowing.


In addition to muscular dystrophy and dysphagia, other medical conditions can also increase the risk of choking. These include neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis, and certain respiratory conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


If you have a medical condition that increases your risk of choking, it is important to take steps to reduce your risk. This may include avoiding certain foods or eating slowly and carefully. Your doctor can provide guidance on how to reduce your risk of choking based on your specific medical condition.


Frequently Asked Questions


What are the steps for providing first aid to a choking victim?


If someone is choking, it is important to act quickly. The Mayo Clinic recommends the following steps for adults and children over one year old who are conscious and choking:

  1. Give five back blows between the person's shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.

  2. Perform five abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich maneuver). Stand behind the person, wrap your arms around their waist, and make a fist with one hand. Place the thumb side of your fist just above the person's navel and below the ribcage. Grasp your fist with your other hand and give five quick upward thrusts.

When should you not perform the Heimlich maneuver?


The Heimlich maneuver should not be performed on someone who is unconscious or unable to breathe. In this scenario, start CPR immediately and have someone call 911 to get immediate medical attention.


What are some ways to prevent choking?


Prevention is key when it comes to choking. Here are some tips to reduce the risk of choking:

  • Cut food into small pieces and chew thoroughly before swallowing.

  • Avoid talking or laughing with food in your mouth.

  • Avoid eating while lying down or in a reclined position.

  • Keep small objects, such as coins and buttons, out of reach of children.

  • Avoid giving young children foods that are hard, sticky, or small in size.

What are the common causes of choking?


Choking can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Eating too quickly or not chewing food thoroughly

  • Eating while distracted or talking

  • Swallowing large pieces of food

  • Drinking alcohol before or during a meal

  • Dental problems or poor oral hygiene

  • Certain medical conditions that affect swallowing

What should you do if someone is choking on saliva?


If someone is choking on saliva, encourage them to cough and clear their airway on their own. If they are unable to do so, follow the steps for providing first aid to a choking victim.


Do you need medical attention after a choking incident?


If you are able to successfully dislodge the object causing the choking, you may not need medical attention. However, it is important to seek medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent coughing or wheezing

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Bluish color to the skin or lips

  • Loss of consciousness or fainting

Remember, choking can be a serious medical emergency, and it is always better to err on the side of caution and seek medical attention if you are unsure.


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