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A choking person’s airway may be completely or partially blocked. A complete blockage is an urgent medical emergency. A partial obstruction can quickly become life threatening if the person loses the ability to breathe in and out sufficiently. Without oxygen, permanent brain damage can occur in as little as 4 minutes. Rapid first aid for choking can save a life.
The universal distress signal for choking is grabbing the throat with one or both hands.
DO NOT perform first aid if the person is coughing forcefully and able to speak – a strong cough can dislodge the object on its own.
1. Ask the person:
"Are you choking?"
"Can you speak?"
2. Send someone to call 911 or your local emergency number.
Review Date 7/20/2013
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.