Unconscious but breathing – children and adults
If a person does not respond to the sound of your voice or to
gentle pressure applied to their body, it is likely they are
In this context, anyone over the age of one year old for the
purpose of these instructions.
Recognition and treatment
- To confirm if someone is unconscious but breathing complete the
steps of the primary survey - Danger, Response, Airway, Breathing,
Check for severe bleeding (DRABC)
- If an AED is available refer
to the steps for using an AED.
Check for danger
- Are you or they in any danger?
- If you have not already done so make the area safe and then
- If a person is drowning, only enter the water
to rescue them if it is safe to do so, you have been trainer to so
and they are unconscious. Dial 999/112 for emegency help
immediately for drowning victims.
Check for a response
- Shout a command at them:
- 'Can you hear me?'
- 'Open your eyes'
- Gently shake their shoulders
- If they respond, check for severe bleeding and other
- Shout for help.
Open the airway
- Help them to breath by opening their airway
- To do this, place one hand on the forehead and using two
fingers lift the chin.
- Position your cheek close to their mouth
- Look, listen and feel for no more than 10 seconds:
- look to see if the chest is rising and falling
- listen for breathing
- feel the breath against your cheek
- If they are not breathing commence cardiopulmonary
resuscitation (CPR) - adults, children or infants
- If they are breathing normally, treat any life threatening
injuries and place them in the recovery position
- If their breathing becomes noisy, stop treatment and turn them
into the recovery position before continuing.
Put them in the recovery position
- Turn them onto their side
- Lift chin forward in open airway position and adjust hand under
the cheek as necessary
- Check they cannot roll forwards or backwards
- Monitor breathing continuously
- If injuries allow, turn them to the other side after 30
Call for help
- Call 999/112 for emergency help.
More information about unconscious but breathing
children and adults
If you suspect spinal injury, use the jaw thrust technique.
Place your hands on either side of their face. With your fingertips
gently lift the jaw to open the airway. Take care not to tilt their
This is common in the first few minutes after a sudden cardiac
arrest. It usually takes the form of sudden irregular gasps for
breath. It should not be mistaken for normal breathing and if it is
present chest compressions and rescue breaths (together called
cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR) should be started
Take a first aid course
The advice provided in this section is no substitute for proper
first aid training.
St John Ambulance holds first aid courses throughout the
country. The following courses cover this topic:
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