The Heimlich manoeuvre, a short sharp burst of pressure to the abdomen to clear a blockage in the throat, is just as effective when performed by the person who is choking, experts have found.
Doctors from the Royal Brompton Hospital in London warned that too often people were embarrassed when they started choking and sought privacy, often where nobody could help.
But Dr Nick Hopkinson said he and colleagues had discovered that the Heimlich manoeuvre could be self-administered, either by pressing the abdomen sharply onto a chair, or by delivering a similar thrust with their hand.
Dr Hopkinson said that the technique should be taught in First Aid classes, so that people would know what to do if they were on their own when they started to choke.
Writing in the journal Thorax, he said: "Choking can be a cause of sudden death in a perfectly healthy person. There may be only a few minutes to save a life.
"It is important to raise awareness of what to do if you are with someone who is choking and especially if you are by yourself and choking.
"We would like to see the self-administered technique taught on first aid courses and in schools. Posters in every restaurant and training for restaurant staff could help save lives."
The Heimlich manoeuvre is often needed when a patient is choking on food or other objects, and their airway is obstructed.
Usually, a first-aider would place their arms around the choking person from behind, and pull upwards and inwards on the abdomen below the ribcage.
The pressure from this movement can expel the obstruction, allowing the patient to breathe again.
To find out if the Heimlich manoeuvre was effective when self-administered, doctors swallowed pressure sensors and then monitored how much force was created in the chest during the usual technique, and when performed solo. They found both methods were equally effective at clearing a blockage.
Professor Sir Malcolm Green, Emeritus Professor of Respiratory Medicine, Imperial College, said: "People are often embarrassed when they start to choke and move away from their friends to somewhere private, to the toilets or out onto the street, and that can result in their death.
"We need to make sure they stay where they are and know how to do the manoeuvre on themselves or over the chair they have just been sitting on."