Symptoms and Signs of Choking

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 11/12/2021

Doctor's Notes on Choking

Choking is a medical emergency that is life-threatening. It is known as foreign body airway obstruction and refers to a situation in which air is blocked from entering the lungs due to the presence of a foreign object in the airway. Inhalation or ingestion of food or another object is the cause of choking. Food most commonly causes choking in adults, but in young children, swallowing of small objects, such as pieces of toys, is also a common cause of choking.

The characteristic symptom of choking is the sudden inability to breathe or talk. Associated symptoms can include:

  • gasping,
  • wheezing, 
  • coughing,
  • gagging,
  • clutching or gesturing to the throat, and
  • panic.

The skin may take on a bluish appearance, and the victim may lose consciousness or pass out.

What Is the Treatment for Choking?

Choking is an emergency. First aid for choking involves the following:

  • First, give up to 5 back blows between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand
  • Then, if the person still choking but not pregnant or obese, do abdominal thrusts by standing behind the person and wrapping your arms around their waist. Place your clenched fist just above the person’s navel. Grab your fist with your other hand. Quickly pull inward and upward as if trying to lift the person up. Perform a total of 5 abdominal thrusts.
  • If the person is still choking, continue cycles of 5 back blows and 5 abdominal thrusts until the object is coughed up or the person starts to cough or breathe. Take the object out of their mouth only if you can see it. Never do a finger sweep of the mouth unless you can see the object.
  • If the person is obese or pregnant, do high abdominal thrusts. Stand behind the person, wrap your arms around them, and position your hands at the base of the breast bone, then quickly pull inward and upward.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.