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Choking on food

first; aid; choking; CPR; food; safety; airway; choke;


What causes choking?

Have you ever heard someone coughing while they were eating or drinking then afterwards saying "Oh that went down the wrong way?"

chokingAt the back of your throat food and air both travel through the same tube for a short distance until the tube divides into two tubes – the oesophagus (say oss-off-a-gus) which carries food down into the stomach, and the trachea (trak-ee-a)(windpipe) which carries air to the lungs. There is a small flap at the top of the trachea called the epiglottis (ep-i-glot-iss) and this closes off the top of the trachea when you swallow some food or a drink. Sometimes food slips past the flap and into the windpipe – which can block the windpipe. This is called 'choking'.


Coughing is an automatic reaction by the body trying to push the lump of food up out of the windpipe. Most of the time we can cough the lump out, but sometimes the food lodges in the windpipe and a person can actually die.


Keeping yourself safe

You can keep yourself safe from choking by:

  • Chewing every mouthful of food until it is small and soft enough to swallow.
  • Not talking or moving around when you're chewing food. (Talking with your mouth full looks gross as well!)
  • Not putting anything into your mouth other than food or drink.

Look after the 'littlies'

Little kids are only just learning to eat.
They may only have a few teeth and no back teeth to help them grind up their food until it's small and soft enough to be safe to swallow.
They often put small things into their mouths, like small parts of toys.

You can help little kids by:

  • Cutting up their food into small pieces.
    cut food into small pieces
  • Taking off skin and fat from meat such as sausages.
  • Grating hard food like carrots and apples so that they're safer to eat.  
  • Mashing hard veggies for them.
  • Don't give them nuts, popcorn, hard lollies or whole grapes.
    nuts, hard lollies, popcorn
  • Don't let them eat while they are running around playing.
  • Don't force them to eat any thing that they don't want to eat.
  • Keeping them away from toys with small parts.

What if someone is choking?

Remember you are a kid and you may not be able to help someone who is choking. This is not your fault! Even many adults do not know what to do or are not able to help the person who is choking.

Get help - all of your teachers have had first aid training and will know what to do.

First aid for choking - for adults or people who have had first aid training 

If the person is coughing, wait and see if the person can cough the food up. If the person can then breathe normally, usually nothing more needs to be done - but if you are a kid get a grownup to check that the person is okay.

If the person is not able to breathe normally get help as soon as possible.

  • In Australia ring 000 and ask what to do.

If someone is choking and not able to cough out the object then she may need some help to get rid of whatever is blocking the airway.

Get help, or if you an adult or someone trained in first aid then you may be able to help her by:

  • sit down and bend the small person face down over your kneesChecking her mouth and getting anything out using your finger like a scoop.
  • Keeping calm and talking quietly, saying what you are doing.
  • If the person is small then sit and bend her face down over your knees with her head lower, like the picture.
  • Give up to 5 sharp blows between her shoulder blades using the heel of your hand. (That's the bottom of your hand where it bends at the wrist.)
  • Check her mouth to see if you can get the blockage out now or it may have already come out.

If the child is not breathing you need to call 000 or start CPR if you have been trained to do it.

If you are not trained, put the phone on loudspeaker and do what the emergency service person tells you to do.

Dr Kate says

Dr Kate
It is scary when you are choking. There is a topic on the Parenting and Child Health part of this site called Choking on food and other objects. It might be useful for your parents or the person who cares for you to look through it.   


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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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