Choking Spell (Adult)

Choking occurs when a foreign object becomes lodged in your throat or windpipe, blocking air flow. This may be caused by a piece of food or a large pill. A complete blockage of your throat or windpipe prevents air from going to your lungs. If this lasts long enough, the oxygen level in your blood goes down and causes you to lose consciousness. This tends to occur more often in older adults. This is because of decreased saliva production and other causes. But it can occur at any age.

Home care

To prevent a choking spell, observe the following:

  • Cut food into small pieces.

  • Chew food slowly and thoroughly, especially if wearing dentures.

  • Don't laugh or talk while chewing or swallowing.

  • Don't drink a lot of alcohol before and during meals.

  • If you have trouble swallowing large pills, it may be possible to crush them, or to get the liquid form if available. But some pills should not be crushed. Ask your pharmacist before crushing any of your medicines. You could also ask your healthcare provider to prescribe another type of medicine in a smaller size.


If you have a blockage preventing air flow, you naturally want to grab your throat with both hands. That's the universal sign for choking. If someone appears to be choking and doesn't give this signal, look for these signs:

  • Can't speak

  • Trouble breathing or noisy breathing

  • Can't cough forcefully

  • Skin, lips, and nails turning blue or dusky

  • Loss of consciousness

If you see any of the above signs, call 911 right away and take first aid measures if you are trained to do them. If you or your family doesn't know how to give first aid for choking, call your local health department or community center for class information. It could be lifesaving.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider as advised. For more information, visit the following:

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Another brief choking spell

  • New cough that doesn't go away, or occurs with thick sputum

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38.0ºC) or higher, or as directed by your provider

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Another choking spell that doesn't end right away

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Shortness of breath or noisy breathing

  • Skin, lips, and nails turning blue or dusky

  • Can't speak

  • Can't cough forcefully

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