Treatment for Choking

Choking is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical treatment. Depending on the age of the child, treatment may involve the Heimlich maneuver, or back blows and chest thrusts.

Treatment for infants who are choking includes the following:

  1. If another person is present, instruct him or her to call 911 immediately.
  2. Hold the infant face down across your forearm, supporting the head and jaw with your hand.
  3. Use your free hand to strike the middle of the back sharply (called back blows) as many as five times. If the object comes out and the baby begins to breathe, discontinue back blows. If the baby does not begin to breathe, turn him or her over.
  4. Hold the infant face up across your forearm, supporting the head and neck with your hand.
  5. Use two or three fingers on your free hand to press sharply on the center of the chest (called chest thrusts) as many as five times. If the object comes out and the baby begins to breathe, discontinue chest thrusts.
  6. Alternate between five back blows and five chest thrusts until the object comes out or the baby loses consciousness (becomes unresponsive).
  7. If you are alone, shout for help, dial 911, and begin administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The following steps are used to treat choking in children over the age of 1 year:

  1. Ask the child, "Are you choking?"
  2. If the child is able to cry, speak, or cough forcibly, allow him or her to cough up the obstruction. If the child cannot cry, speak, or cough forcibly; nods; or grabs his or her throat (the universal sign for choking), tell him or her that you are going to help.
  3. If another person is present, instruct him or her to call 911 immediately.
  4. Perform the Heimlich maneuver. Depending on the height of the child, stand or kneel behind him or her and wrap your arms around his or her abdomen.
  5. Make a fist with one hand, placing the thumb side of the fist on the child's abdomen, below the breastbone and above the navel.
  6. Grasp your fist with your other hand and administer quick, upward thrusts until the object is forced out or the child loses consciousness.
  7. If the child becomes unconscious, lower him or her to the ground, shout for help, and begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If you are alone, call 911.

Contact a qualified health care provider (e.g., the child's pediatrician) as soon as possible after any choking episode that requires treatment, or whenever there are concerns about a child's breathing after choking.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 04 Sep 2015