Coping with Choking

A choking episode can be extremely distressing for people with MND but also for their carers and family members. Here are some tips to help you cope in this situation.

Choking can be very frightening to experience, and to witness. Although it may not feel this way at the time, choking does not mean someone is dying, the sensation will pass. However, there are ways you can help your loved one if choking occurs.

MND may affect someone’s ability to swallow and breathe, and this can lead to choking episodes. People with MND rarely choke on food. Choking episodes usually occur because of secretions that trickle down the throat, due to weakness in the muscles which help us swallow, and this can cause a sensation of not being able to breathe.

In this video, using the voices of real carers and family members, we share their experiences of dealing with choking. 


What to do when someone with MND is choking

There are a number of things, as a carer or loved one, that you can do to help when someone with MND is having a choking episode, until the sensation passes: 

  • try to remain calm
  • encourage the person to focus on slow and steady breathing
  • open a window to give the feeling of air on the face
  • assist the person to the most upright position possible
  • if the person has been prescribed medication to help manage choking episodes, use it
  • encourage the person to cough and then swallow their saliva if possible
  • use suction equipment as appropriate, and only if trained to do so

How to prevent choking

Inform your MND Clinical Specialist and/or Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) that this is happening as there may be things they can do to help. The MND Clinical Specialist may be able to provide aids such as suction units, nebulisers and medication, whereas the SLT can suggest different approaches to eating/drinking in addition to diet/fluid modifications where appropriate.

What to do if choking continues

If the episode continues for longer than usual, medication is not working and the person with MND is very distressed, you can call 999. It is also important to ensure you tell the ambulance controller that the person has MND so they can treat them appropriately, and that you have any care information e.g. DNR (do not resuscitate), to hand.

Find out more

If you have more questions, please talk to your local MND Clinical Specialist and/or SLT. You can also download our leaflet on Coping with Choking

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