Choking is when someone cannot breathe because food, a toy, or other object is blocking the throat or windpipe (airway).
Heimlich maneuver - unconscious adult or child over 1 year
A choking person's airway may be completely or partially blocked so that not enough oxygen reaches the lungs. A complete blockage is a medical emergency. A partial blockage can quickly become life threatening if the person cannot properly breathe.
Without oxygen, permanent brain damage can occur in as little as 4 - 6 minutes. Rapid first aid for
Occasionally an object will enter the lung. While the person may appear to improve and breathe normally, in a few days symptoms may develop, such as:
cough Pneumonia Wheezing
If this happens, get medical help right away.
- Eating too fast, failing to chew food well enough, or eating with poorly fitting dentures
- Drinking alcohol (even a small amount of alcohol affects awareness)
- Being unconscious (a person may breathe in vomited material)
- Breathing in or swallowing small objects (young children)
- Having trauma to the head and face (swelling, bleeding, or deformity can cause choking)
Review Date: 07/08/2009
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.