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If the airway is only partly blocked, the person will usually be able to speak, cry, cough or breathe. In situations like this, a person will usually be able to clear the blockage themselves. If choking is mild:

  • encourage the person to continue coughing to try to clear the blockage
  • remove any obvious obstruction from the mouth using your first two fingers and thumb
  • if the obstruction is severe and the person is struggling to breathe, give up to five back blows (between the shoulder blades), using the heel of your hand. Carefully check the mouth and, if possible, remove any obstruction after every blow.

If this does not clear the obstruction, perform abdominal thrusts by following the steps below. This technique should not be used on babies under one year old, pregnant women or people who are obese:

  • stand behind the person who is choking
  • place your arms around their waist and bend them well forward
  • clench one fist and place it just above the person's belly button and below the breastbone
  • place your other hand on top, then pull sharply inwards and upwards
  • repeat this up to five times until the object stuck in their throat comes out of their mouth.

The aim is to get the obstruction out with each chest thrust rather than necessarily doing all five.

If the obstruction does not clear after three cycles of back blows and chest thrusts, dial 999 for an ambulance and continue until help arrives.

The person choking should always be checked over by a health professional afterwards to check for any injuries caused by abdominal thrusts or any smaller pieces of the obstruction that remain.

You can call 111 for advice if you need urgent medical help and are not sure what to do.

Need medical help fast?

Call 111 when you need medical help fast but it's not a 999 emergency. NHS 111 is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Calls are free from landlines and mobile phones.

Life-threatening emergency?

If the illness or injury is life-threatening, don't hesitate. Call 999 straight away.