First Aid
Recognizing and Clearing an Obstructed Airway

Choking is often the result of inadequately chewed food becoming lodged in the throat or windpipe . If some food "goes down the wrong pipe," the coughing reflex often will resolve the problem. In fact, a person is not choking if he or she is able to cough freely, has normal skin color and is able to speak. If the cough is more like a gasp and the person is turning blue, the individual is probably choking.

If in doubt, ask the choking person whether he or she can talk. If the person is capable of speech, then the windpipe is not completely blocked and oxygen is reaching the lungs. A person who is choking is unable to communicate except by hand motions.

The universal signal for choking is a hand clutched to the throat, with thumb and fingers extended. These people require emergency treatment. They should never be left unattended.

The Heimlich Maneuver is perhaps the best-known technique for clearing a blocked air passage, but other options can be used.

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