A “foreign body” can range from a big hunk of meat to a tiny piece of carrot. We might suspect it if the cough began very abruptly while eating. Small children and elderly with diminished swallowing ability are at risk, but it can happen to anyone who gobbles.
If the person can’t breathe, call 911 (best done from a land line, so the ambulance can locate you for sure). If it’s you, and you’re alone, be sure to unlock & open the door. If all you have is a cell, stumble out to the street.
Only perform a Heimlich maneuver on somebody who’s not only struggling to breathe, but can’t even make a sound — no air passing. NEVER do it on someone who’s actively coughing.
If our patient looks OK, just has a cough and normal lung exam, we find another diagnosis. A Foreign Body that’s worked its way down into the lung doesn’t cause cough unless pneumonia develops. The work-up is tricky; we only pursue the possibility if a patient has recurrent pneumonias in the same part of the lung.