First Aid: Choking

Abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver)
Amanda M. Woodhead (public domain)

Do you know what to do in a medical emergency? How would you help someone choking on food? Liz Waid and Joshua Leo begin a series on first aid.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Joshua Leo. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

Do you know what to do when someone has an accident? Do you know how to help them? When there is an emergency, people need help quickly. Treating a hurt person quickly is called first aid. First aid does not require expert medical help – anyone can learn first aid. Today’s Spotlight is the first program in a series on first aid. In these programs, we will give you information about first aid. How can you help in an emergency?

Voice 2 

Imagine you are sitting with a friend. You are eating dinner together. Suddenly, your friend begins to cough. His face turns red. He cannot breathe. He is choking on his food! What would you do?

Voice 1 

At some time you have probably experienced choking. You swallow some food. It feels like it has ‘gone down the wrong way.’ It has not travelled down the food tube. It has travelled down the windpipe. It becomes difficult to breathe. You start to choke. But then, you cough. And the piece of food comes up out of the windpipe. You can breathe again.

Voice 2 

But it is not always this easy. Sometimes the food does not come back up. Sometimes a person continues to choke. A person with a blocked windpipe can die in only three or four minutes. So what do you do when your friend begins choking?

Voice 1 

The first step of any first aid is to call for medical help. Some countries have an emergency phone number. Loudly ask someone to call this number. Or ask someone to go and get the medical expert in your area. Then, you can help your friend who is choking.

Voice 2 

If your friend cannot cough up the food, he needs your help. Encourage him to bend forward at the waist. Then, hit him on the back, between the shoulders. Use the bottom of your hand. Use sharp firm hits. Stop after each hit to see if it has worked. Try this for up to five times.

Voice 1

If this fails, stand behind your friend. Place your arms around the top of his stomach. Close one hand into a ball shape. Make your thumb point upwards. Hold your ball shaped hand with your other hand. Then, pull both hands towards you. Do this upwards and inwards. Use quick strong movements, like you are lifting your friend. You are trying to push the upper stomach against the bottom of the lungs. This is to push out the remaining air - using it to force out the food. Look in your friend’s mouth. See if the food has come out. If not, do this again - for up to five times.  This is called the Heimlich maneuver.

Voice 2 

If this fails, combine the hits and the stomach pushes. Hit your friend on the back five times, and then push his stomach five times. Do this up to three times. If your friend does not cough out the food, call again for medical help.

Voice 1 

Children often choke on small objects. Young children are always putting things into their mouths. Also, a child’s windpipe is much smaller than an adult’s windpipe. It is easier for a child to choke. For example, a child cannot take medicine in small hard pills or tablets. An adult can swallow this medicine easily. But a child may choke. Children should take only liquid medicine. Or, if only pills are available, they can be crushed and mixed with clean water.

Voice 2 

If a child is choking, you can do first aid. But you need to be gentle. It is easy to damage a child’s body. Use only one hand when pushing their stomach up. Do not hit the child’s back.

Voice 1 

If a baby is choking you need to be even more careful. Babies are any child younger than one year old. If a baby is choking you must first sit down. Hold the baby so that she is lying along your arm. Her face should be down, on your hand. Rest your arm on your leg. Support her head and chest. Then, gently but firmly hit the baby between the shoulders. Use the bottom of your hand.

Voice 2 

If this does not work, turn the baby over. She should still be lying along your arm. Her head needs to be lower than her chest. Feel for her breastbone, where her rib bones come together on her chest. Use only two fingers, and press gently but firmly on the center of the breastbone. Press five times, quickly. If this does not work, repeat these actions three times. Then get medical help.

Voice 1 

Sueanne is 60 years old. One Saturday she was looking after her 10-month-old grandson, Robert. Robert was learning how to walk. Usually, Sueanne watched him all the time. She was very careful, so that he did not hurt himself. But that day, the telephone rang. Sueanne went to answer it. She was only away for a minute. But in that minute, Robert found a toy for playing - his older brother’s small car. Robert pulled the wheel off the car. And he swallowed the wheel.

Voice 2 

The wheel became trapped in his windpipe. When Sueanne went back to Robert, he was choking. Robert could not breathe. He was turning a blue grey colour. He was not getting enough air. Sueanne knew that she had to do something quickly. She knew that, without help, he could die. She sat Robert on her knee. Gently, she hit his back. On the fifth hit, the wheel came out of his mouth. It landed on the floor. Seconds later, Robert was breathing normally again. Sueanne said,

Voice 3 

“It was the most terrible experience of my life. I knew that Robert was dying in front of me. He could not breathe. But my first aid training helped me. I acted as the experts had trained me to do - and it worked. I think that everyone should know first aid. It is so simple to learn. But it can save lives. You never know when you are going to need it.”

Voice 1 

There are many different kinds of accidents. Each of them needs different first aid help. The right, quick, action can save a person’s life.

Voice 2 

In another programme we will look at first aid for some other injuries and accidents. If you are interested in first aid, you can learn more. Ask your local doctor or hospital where you can train in first aid. You never know - you could save a life.

Voice 1 

The writers of this program were Marina Santee and Elizabeth Lickiss. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘First Aid: Choking’.

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Have you ever been in a situation where someone was choking? What did you do? What would you do?


Avatar Spotlight
said on May 03, 2012

This program is very useful. We can not just learn English here, but further more we can learn useful advices about first aid. So we can be able to save our family members or friend’s life. The spotlight team is doind a great job helping every reader and listener of this programme.
Thank you very much indeed.
Skender from Albania

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 20, 2012

Thank you Spotlight for sharing this fist aid to me and all readers in this program . I notice that it is very important and necessary to take a time to learn it. It is simply but very useful . we have only one life and one time .
From Cambodia

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on July 05, 2016

I think that learning of first aid is very important fot everyone.
Yea, I have been in situation(s) where someone was choking but those were simple situations where its treated by mute breath for little socands or beating on back.
God bless you

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on July 12, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Tuesday 12, July 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Marine Santee, Elizabeth Lickiss, Joshua Leo, and Michio Ozaki:

First of all, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!
Yes, I have ever been because I work at the hospital every day taking care of serious patients.
So, three ou five times a day I have to vacum them into their windpipe to permit them to breathe because they are unable to do this action only.
Besides, they receive help from a respirator to breathe with a tube into their windpipe. For that reason, the nurses and physiotherapists have to vacum their windpipes frequently.
However, a terrible situation happened a long time ago. I was working at pediatrician with my co-works and seven children. 
Slowly, my three years old patient José took out my stethoscope from my neck and he started to play with it on the pediatrcian’s floor.
I was busy with other child into the same room. Suddenly, the mother’s José started to shout my son is going to die. So, she said that: Please, nurse Severino help me with my son. The poor José was in purple color. He was not getting enought air. He was chocking.
He had swallowed my stethoscope eartips. Quickly, I took the poor José and I sat him on my knee. Gently, I hit his back. On three times, the stethoscope’s eartips came out of his mouth.
It landed on the floor. After that, José was breathing normally again and his skin turned in red color again.
Thank God to save the Jose’s life my poor and innocent patient.

Your regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
Thomas Vu
said on July 29, 2019

Helpful! Thank you so much!

Avatar Spotlight
said on August 01, 2019

Being able to learn first aid is good. We can help other people or even ourselves in emergency situations or accidents. We learn first aid and we learn about risks leading to emergency situations or accidents. Knowing about risks and preventing risks are very good. There are many risks in life. Anyone can meet risks. We help everyone in emergency situations or accidents, we need everyone’s help when we have an emergency situation or accident. Being able to learn first aid is good. We can help other people or even ourselves in emergency situations or accidents. There are beautiful good things and risks in life. Risks remind each of us always to live to be good persons.

Avatar Spotlight
said on August 05, 2019

Good and useful program. As I said in another program, I was an officer of the Brazilian army. Every soldier should know a lot about first aid because wounds and accidents are common in our activities to prepare men for war. A series of reports can be made about broken legs, dislocated shoulders, bent knees, and accidental shots, and so on. A large number of lives are protected with the first aid of the army.

humble71's avatar
said on September 07, 2019

It has been a very important topic . First aid needs to be taught at every one.  We don’t know when we can be at front of an emergency situation. Thanks for remind us that we need to be prepared for saving a life in our family, in public , workplace, of a restaurant. Thanks so much Spotlight team for producing this program.