How to Stop Yourself from Choking

Date: June 1, 2014      Publication: Bottom Line Health      Source:  Barbara Caracci, National Safety Council      Print:

When something goes down the “wrong pipe,” an abdominal thrust from a bystander (the Heimlich maneuver) will often cause it to pop right out. But what if you’re alone and choking?

You can perform a version of the same technique on yourself. It’s worth learning because choking is a leading cause of at-home deaths in the US.

Even though some groups advise pressing your fist into your abdomen to give yourself abdominal thrusts, this technique doesn’t always work—many people can’t generate enough force.



  • Dial 911 and put the phone down. Use a landline phone so your address will be sent to the dispatcher.
  • Find a waist-high stable object—for example, the back of a heavy chair or a countertop.
  • Bend over and drive your body hard against the object. Aim for the area just above the navel.
  • If you’re still choking, thrust again. Keep doing it. If your airway is completely blocked, you have only a few minutes before you lose consciousness.

This maneuver is very effective, but of course it’s better to not choke in the first place. What helps: Eat more slowly and take small bites. Meats—particularly when they’re consumed with alcohol—are common offenders. Also, be mindful when you (and young children) consume small edibles such as grapes, popcorn, nuts—and candy.

Source: Barbara Caracci, director, Emergency Care Program Development & Training, National Safety Council.