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What to do if you witness someone choking on food

How to respond to someone choking

If someone appears to have food lodged in their throat and is coughing, encourage them to continue coughing. Do not try to help by slapping their back.  If they are coughing, that means that air is getting through.

However, if the person shows signs of choking such as not being able to breathe, cough, or speak, is making high pitched sounds when breathing or they are doing the universal sign of holding the throat with one or both hands, choking rescue abdominal thrusts will be necessary.

If displaying any of the above signs, ask person if they can speak. If they can speak, allow them to continue coughing, unassisted.

If they are unable to speak or breathe, proceed with abdominal thrusts to help them.     

Watch this video to learn how to give abdominal thrusts.       

  • Position your leg between person’s legs, to better catch them if they become unconscious and fall.
  • Make a fist with one hand
  • Put the thumb side a little above the bellybutton
  • Take free hand and grasp fist and push hard and quick upward into abdomen area
  • Continue thrusts until object is expelled, or when person is able to breathe, cough, or talk.

If the person becomes unconscious, lower them to the ground, call 9-1-1 and begin CPR. The Fire Department dispatcher will guide you in CPR until help arrives.