First Aid for Choking Adults: Causes, Symptoms and How to Treat Choking Adults

Senior woman is holding her chest

Emergencies can happen here and there. Yet sometimes, if it isn’t your lucky day, you could wind up choking on an apple or see a friend of yours who does. In times like these, you need to call an emergency ambulance service to be able to reach the nearest emergency hospital and prevent the situation from escalating.

In any case, if you happen to witness a choking incident or become the unfortunate one to experience it, here are some key things to remember to be able to administer the proper first-aid approach. Learn more about the proper first-aid approach from our first aid courses.


A series of abdominal thrusts or chest thrusts are recommended for a person who is choking on a piece of food or a foreign object. This technique is used only when a person is choking due to something blocking the airway. Choking is when a person can’t speak, cough, or breathe. Airway obstruction can lead to a loss of consciousness and death. When applying the abdominal thrusts, be careful not to use too much force, so you don’t damage the ribs or internal organs. Only use abdominal thrusts or chest thrusts on a conscious person. If the person is unconscious, use chest compressions.


adult eating apple

You can prevent choking in adults by following these precautionary measures:

  • Cut food into small pieces.
  • Chew food slowly and thoroughly, especially if wearing dentures.
  • Avoid laughing and talking while chewing and swallowing.
  • Avoid excessive intake of alcohol before and during meals.

You can prevent choking in infants and children by following these precautionary measures:

  • Keep marbles, beads, thumbtacks, latex balloons, coins, and other small toys and objects out of reach, particularly in children younger than 4 years old.
  • Prevent children from walking, running, or playing when they have food and toys in their mouths.
  • Youngsters under the age of 4 should not be fed foods that can easily become lodged in the throat, such as hot dogs, nuts, chunks of meat or cheese, grapes, hard or sticky candy, popcorn, chunks of peanut butter, or raw carrots.
  • Supervise mealtimes with young children.
  • Prevent older siblings from giving dangerous food or toys to a young child.

Being engaged in other activities while eating

Ever heard of the saying, “Don’t talk when your mouth is full”? Apparently, this saying does not only apply in terms of manners. It can also be applied to safety. All too often, eating while talking and laughing can trigger choking incidents as the coordination of your swallowing and breathing lapses with your mouth being engaged in a lot of activities. 

Eating too fast and not chewing food properly can also contribute to choking instances.

Symptoms of Choking

woman clutching throat

Unlike babies who have trouble communicating what is happening to them, choking adults are far easier to recognise, as they too are aware of what is happening to them. 

Some of the symptoms of choking in adults include coughing or gagging, wheezing, clutching the throat or hand signals pointing to the throat, inability to talk, and a pained expression of panic on their face. In most cases, they can pass out as well. 

Because choking is a life-threatening situation, promptly call in emergency services. But since it can take some time for help to arrive, you will have to handle the situation on your own. In incidents of choking, every minute matters.

How to treat someone who is choking?

Man Performing heimlich Procedure On Woman

When applying first aid to a choking adult, you need to verify one thing first: are they conscious or unconscious?


Abdominal thrusts lift the diaphragm and force enough air from the lungs to create an artificial cough. This cough is intended to move air through the windpipe, pushing, and expelling the obstruction out of the airway and mouth:

  • Reach around the person’s waist.
  • Position one clenched fist above the navel and below the rib cage.
  • Grasp your fist with your other hand. Pull the clenched fist sharply and directly inward and upward abdominal thrusts in one motion into the casualty’s abdomen.
  • If the person is obese or in late pregnancy, give chest thrusts.
  • Deliver each abdominal thrust firmly and distinctly with the intent of relieving the obstruction until the foreign body is expelled or the casualty becomes unconscious. 

If the person choking is pregnant or overweight, you should perform high abdominal thrusts. Here’s how:

  • Stand behind the person. Place your arms under the casualty’s armpits encircling the chest. Make a fist with one hand with the thumb in the palm. Place thumb-side of fist on the middle of the casualty’s sternum (breastbone)
  • Grasp your fist with your other hand and bring yourself close to the casualty before giving quick backward thrusts
  • Deliver each backward thrust firmly and distinctly with the intent of relieving obstruction until the foreign body is expelled or the casualty becomes unconscious.

Fainted senior woman lying on the ground outside


If the person choking loses consciousness, you need to make sure that they can still breathe by clearing the airway. 

  • Lay the person with their back on the floor and arms to their sides.
  • Perform chest compressions. The reverberations created by the act of CPR can aid in dislodging the object from the person’s airway. Make sure to check the mouth from time to time. 
  • If you can see the object causing the blockage high in the throat, you can try and reach it out using your finger. Do this carefully as you can end up pushing the blockage down the throat. Do not attempt to do this if the blockage is not really visible in the first place.


Man Performing CPR on Mannequin

Once a person becomes unconscious and unresponsive in the event of choking, you will need to administer chest compressions to them. Doing so not only clears their airway but also aids in dislodging the item that caused the choking. z

If the casualty becomes unconscious, proceed with the following steps. 

  • Support and position the casualty to lying on his/her back on a firm flat surface. 
  • The rescuer shouts: “Help! Call ambulance 995 and get an AED!” 
  • Locate the landmark and perform 30 chest compressions using the same location and techniques used for chest compressions in CPR. 
  • Open the mouth gently to check for visible foreign bodies.
  • If the foreign body is seen, insert the index finger of your other hand into the casualty’s mouth along the inside of the cheek.
  • Use a hooking action to dislodge the foreign body and manoeuvre it out of the mouth.
  • Head-Tilt-Chin-Lift and give 1st Ventilation. Chest rise – check for breathing – no breathing; start CPR.
  • 1st Ventilation – No chest rises. Re-attempt Head-Tilt-Chin-Lift and give 2nd Ventilation. No chest rise – continue 30 chest compression. 
  • If the pulse is present but not breathing, start rescue breathing.
  • 1 ventilation every 5 seconds (Adult >12 years) or 1 ventilation every 3 seconds (Child 1-12 years).


Choking can be classified as mild or severe depending on how much of the person’s airway has been blocked or obstructed. 

Mild Choking 

A casualty with mild airway obstruction will cough to expel the foreign body. If the casualty is wheezing (breathing noisily with a wheezing sound) or coughing, this means that the airway is partially obstructed. Do not interfere. Allow the casualty to cough to expel the object himself/herself.

Severe Choking

In complete (severe) airway obstruction, the casualty is unable to speak, breathe or cough and may become cyanotic (blue). The casualty will clutch the neck with their thumb and fingers, the universal distress signal for choking that requires immediate action. 


In any emergency case, complications can still arise even if you have done your best in providing aid. 

In choking incidents, it is important to seek urgent medical assistance if you notice these complications. 

  • A coughing fit after choking
  • The feeling that something is still stuck in the throat

A person that has suffered from choking must still be checked by doctors to verify that everything is alright. 


Close Up Of Man Demonstrating Heimlich Maneuver

  • To treat one’s own complete FBAO, the casualty makes a fist with one hand, places the thumb-side on the abdomen above the navel (2 fingers’ breadth) and below the xiphoid process, grasps the fist with the other, and then presses inward and upward toward the diaphragm with a quick motion.
  • If unsuccessful, the casualty can also press the upper abdomen over any firm surface such as the back of a chair, side of a table or porch railing. Several abdominal thrusts may be needed to clear the airway.

Different Treatments Between Choking for Adults and Babies

While it’s possible for adults to experience choking, the condition is more common to occur in infants. Hence, aiding a choking infant may necessitate more effort on your part.

To begin, you should be aware that, unlike adults, infants frequently exhibit ambiguous signs of choking. As a result, you must be aware of the cues, such as uneasiness, a blueish face, and crying without making a sound.

Brief Guide to helping a choking infant

If you come across a choking infant, especially if you are a parent, you can help them by giving them five back blows followed by a chest thrust until their airway is clear of the item that is dislodging it. You must ensure that you do it gently as infants have weaker bodies than adults. 

In the worst-case scenario, choking can cause infants to lose consciousness. If this is the case, you must perform CPR to resuscitate them. You can perform CPR on them by compressing them to a depth of 3–4 centimetres. Following that, you must perform rescue breathing at a rate of 30 breaths per minute.

However, you may be unsure of how to assist infants in an emergency. You may be concerned that if you perform the procedure incorrectly, the condition will worsen. 

In that case, you should consider taking a Child First Aid (CFA) course. The course will teach you how to provide emergency assistance, particularly to children and infants, who require more specialised care than adults.

Frequently Asked Questions

Hitting someone on the back is not the same as back blows. Hitting or slapping someone on the back while they are sitting upright is discouraged. Doing so can only trigger the blockage’s move further down the windpipe. There is a proper way to deliver back blows. The person must be leaning forward before you give them back blows.
If the person who is choking is conscious, ask them first if they would like to receive help from you. If the person is unconscious, consent is already implied.
If a person becomes unresponsive while choking, immediately seek medical help. CPR can also be done, starting with chest compressions.

About Medlink Healthcare Group

Committed to providing a comprehensive healthcare ecosystem, Medlink Healthcare Group delivers top-notch ambulance services, first-aid courses and industrial paramedics. We aim to empower individuals, businesses and communities to effectively respond in times of medical emergencies, right when it matters the most.

Our first aid courses cover a wide range of topics, including a CPR + AED course, BCLS course, occupational first aid course, and a standard first aid course in Singapore—both accredited by SRFAC. Whether you’re an individual looking to acquire life-saving skills or a business investing in workplace safety and health training, we have the right course for you.

Alongside training programs, our private ambulance services are led by highly trained paramedics and equipped with cutting-edge medical technology. Every second counts; we are always ready to provide prompt and expert care when you need it most. 

Our industrial paramedics solutions can also meet the unique needs of your workplace, from on-call doctors to screening exercises and specialised clinics. We ensure that you have access to the right medical services to keep employees safe and sound, no matter where they are. 

Your journey to safety starts with us. Contact us today and prepare to respond in any emergency.

This blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for a comprehensive first-aid course provided by certified professionals. Readers are strongly encouraged to acquire a first aid education to receive the appropriate training and certification.

We do not assume responsibility for any actions taken based on the information provided in this article. Always consult with certified first aid professionals and seek hands-on training to ensure you are well-prepared to handle emergency situations competently.

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