Unresponsive breathing adult - St John Ambulance
Unresponsiveness can last for a few seconds
(e.g. fainting) or for a long time. It’s often brought on by
serious illness or injury (e.g. a head injury), or by taking
alcohol or other drugs. Find out what to do if an adult is
unresponsive and breathing.
What to look for - Unresponsive and breathing adult
When someone looks like they’re asleep but
they’re unable to respond to noise or body contact, it’s likely
What you need to do - Unresponsive and breathing
Open the airway
- Place one hand on the casualty’s forehead and gently tilt their
head back. As you do this, the mouth will fall open slightly.
- Place the fingertips of your other hand on the point of the
casualty’s chin and lift the chin.
- Look, listen and feel for normal breathing – chest movement,
sounds and breaths on your cheek. Do this for no more than ten
Put them in the recovery position
- This will keep their airway open.
- Kneel down next to them on the floor.
- The next three steps are for if you find the casualty lying on
their back. If you find them lying on their side or their front you
may not need all three.
1. Place their arm nearest you at a right angle to their body,
with their palm facing upwards.
2. Take their other arm and place it across their chest so the
back of their hand is against their cheek nearest you, and hold it
there. With your other hand, lift their far knee and pull it up
until their foot is flat on the floor.
3. Now you’re ready to roll them onto their side. Carefully pull
on their bent knee and roll them towards you. Once you’ve done
this, the top arm should be supporting the head and the bent leg
should be on the floor to stop them from rolling over too
If you suspect spinal injury
- If you think the casualty could have a spinal injury, you must
keep their neck as still as possible. Instead of tilting their
neck, use the jaw thrust technique: place your hands on either side
of their face and with your fingertips gently lift the jaw to open
the airway, avoiding any movement of their neck.
Call for help
- Once you’ve put them safely into the recovery position, call
999 or 112 for medical help.
- Until help arrives, keep checking the casualty's
- If they stop breathing at any point, call 999 or 112 straight
away and get ready to give them CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation
– a combination of chest pressure and rescue breaths).