First Aid for Foreign Object when Swallowed

Fact Checked

Many foreign objects tend to be removed from the body without affecting a person; however, severe effects may result if the object obstructs the tunnel that leads to your stomach, the esophagus. This is common amongst many children, but is possible in adults as well.

Certain foods such as popcorn, small toys, small parts, buttons, beads or coins can easily be swallowed by children and adults leading to severe choking and ill results. If an object gets lodged in the esophagus, it should be removed immediately, especially if it is a sharp, pointed object that may cut the inner lining of your oesophagus (esophagus) or other hazardous objects such as small batteries used for calculators or watches that may lead to tissue injury.


  • Coughing and choking
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Wheezing


When a foreign object gets stuck in the throat, it is advisable to continue coughing and not interfere. If the airway has been blocked due to the object or if the person is having breathing difficulties and difficulties is coughing, take a five-and-five approach, to deal with the situation until help arrives.

  • 5 back blows

Give the casualty five back blows with the heel of your hand on the persons back, between the shoulder blades.

  • 5 abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver)

Give the casualty five abdominal thrusts by pulling your fist inward with your other hand. Care should be taken while performing the Heimlich maneuver on children and this may injure them; therefore, it is recommended that you perform chest compressions on children, instead.

  • Repeat cycle of 5 back blows and 5 abdominal thrusts

Repeat each circuit until the obstruction is dislodged.

Heimlich maneuver

In order to perform the Heimlich maneuver on another person who is choking, follow these steps:

  • Stand behind the casualty and wrap your arms around his waist as if you are hugging him. Bend the person a little forward.
  • Clench your fist, keeping your hands wrapped around the waist and place it above the navel.
  • Grab hold of the fist with your other hand and thrust it inwards and upwards, hard into the abdomen, as if you are trying to lift the casualty up.
  • Give the casualty 5 abdominal thrusts and repeat the five-and-five circuit until the object gets dislodged.

In case of an obese person or pregnant women, do not apply the Heimlich maneuver by applying pressure on the abdominal region; instead place your hands on the centre of the casualty’s chest and compress it.

Further first aid treatment

If you are alone with the casualty, use the five and five approach before calling for emergency medical help. If in case, there is another person available, tell him to call for help while you perform the back blows and abdominal thrusts. If you are not aware of how to perform back blows, do not perform it on the casualty blindly. Instead, carry on with abdominal thrusts and try to dislodge the object with this procedure, alone.

If the person is unconscious, look for signs of circulation by checking his breathing or movement. If the person does not show signs of circulation, begin CPR immediately. While giving the casualty rescue breaths, check the airways for any obstructions and try to remove the object, if you can see it. If you cannot see the object, do not attempt at trying to sweep the object as you may push it further down, making treatment more difficult.

If you have swallowed a foreign object, here is how you can perform the Heimlich maneuver on yourself AFTER calling emergency medical help:

  • It is impractical to perform back blows on yourself, but you can perform abdominal thrusts. Start by placing your fist right above the navel.
  • Grab hold of your fist with your other hand and bend over a chair or any other hard surface.
  • Thrust your fist upwards and inwards till you dislodge the object from your airways or till help arrives.

Where to Learn More

To learn more about obstructed airways and other respiratory emergencies take workplace approved training. The following courses contain material that covers this content.



Related Video to Airway Obstructions

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