Choking emergency: What should I do?

Even though children below the age of 4 are at high risk for choking, those in the middle years can choke as well. Various foods or other objects can become lodged in the airway of the child, thus disrupting oxygen from reaching the lungs and the entire body.

If the brain is not supplied with oxygen longer than 4 minutes, permanent damage to the brain and even death can occur. If the child has difficulty breathing but still able to speak or has a strong cough, it might be enough to dislodge the object or food. On the other hand, call for emergency assistance so that the child can be taken to a healthcare facility since even partial blockage can progress into a complete one.

Choking emergencies

CPR is another first aid measure that should only be used if the child has no pulse which indicates that the heart ceases to beat.

Measures to deal with a choking episode

Heimlich maneuver

If a child could not breathe at all or he/she appears pale or his/her cough is weak, immediate attention is required. Initially, ask someone to call for emergency assistance. Perform the maneuver on the child. For children in the middle-years, the Heimlich maneuver can be performed while lying down, standing or sitting.

In case the child is conscious who is seated or standing, move behind and wrap your arms around the waist. Position the thumb side of the fist on the center of the abdomen, above the inferior tip of the breastbone. Hold your fist using the other hand, press inwards with fast, upward thrusts. You should repeat the thrusts until the food or object is coughed up or the child starts to cough or breathe.

What is the tongue-jaw lift?

For an unconscious child, lower his/her head to the floor on his/her back and utilize the tongue-jaw lift. Open the mouth with the thumb positioned over the tongue and your fingers enfolded around the lower jaw. This draws out the tongue away from the back part of the throat so that you can clear the airway.

If you can see the foreign object or food, try to remove it with a sideways sweep using your finger. Be careful not to drive the object farther down the airway.


CPR is another first aid measure that should only be used if the child has no pulse which indicates that the heart ceases to beat. The procedure involves compression of the chest with the heel of the hand placed on the lower half of the breastbone.

The technique can help the child breathe and allow the blood to circulate until the emergency team arrives.

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on choking is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage choking emergencies, register for a first aid and CPR course with Vancouver First Aid.


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