Different Kinds of Choking and When You Should Go to the A&E | Health Plus

What to Do if You Choke?

If choking occurs, head to the A&E department where a doctor can remove the obstruction.

Choking may occur when food gets stuck in your trachea (windpipe). Food can also get stuck in your oesophagus (food pipe).

When food gets stuck in your windpipe


Partial choking may cause 

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Breathlessness


  • Partial choking may result in chest infection
  • Full choking may cause brain damage or death

Full choking is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment to remove the blockage.

The brain will begin to die after 5 mins of suffocation.

What should you do if you see someone choking?

Do the Heimlich manoeuvre (Rescuer)

  • Stand behind the casualty
  • Place a fist slightly above the casualty's navel
  • Grasp your fist with the other hand and bend the casualty over
  • Shove your fist inward and upward

Head to the A&E department where a doctor can remove the obstruction.

When food gets stuck in your food pipe

What happens when a foreign object gets stuck in your throat or food pipe?


  • Pain when swallowing
  • Difficulty swallowing (including saliva)
  • Discomfort
  • Breathing difficulties


  • Throat injuries from bones and hard objects

What should you do?

  • Drink water to try moving it down (if not bones or hard objects)
  • Do not attempt to remove bones and hard objects by yourself as they may injure the throat
  • Head to the A&E department where a doctor can remove the obstruction
  • Specialised equipment may be needed to remove food stuck deep in the throat

Choking foods

Some items that may get stuck in the throat (potentially everything!) include:

  • Small fish bones
  • Plant fibres
  • Chicken bones

Other less common items include:

  • Hot dog
  • Hard candy
  • Chewing gum
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chunks of meat or cheese
  • Whole grapes
  • Popcorn
  • Chunks of peanut butter
  • Raw vegetables
  • Raisins

Common reasons why people choke

  • Talking or laughing while chewing and swallowing
  • Eating while running (mostly kids) = food may be inhaled with deep breaths
  • Alcohol impairs the swallowing mechanism and gag reflex
  • Big bites and improper swallowing
  • Small foods like nuts can go into the windpipe by mistake
  • Advanced age may weaken the gag reflex
  • Diseases like Parkinson’s may disrupt the swallowing mechanism


Reviewed by
Dr Dennis Chua, ear, nose and throat specialist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital
Dr Steve Tan, head of A&E department at Parkway Hospitals, Singapore

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