Unconscious and not breathing - 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 unconscious.

Recognition and treatment

Look for

Unconscious - adult

  • To confirm if someone is unconscious and not breathing complete the steps of the primary survey - Danger, Response, Airway, Breathing (DRAB)
  • If an AED is available refer to the steps for using an AED.

Check for danger

Check for danger - adult

  • Are you or they in any danger?
  • If you have not already done so make the area safe and then assess them
  • If a person is drowning, only enter the water to rescue them if it is safe to do so, you have been trained to do so, and they are unconscious. If you are not alone dial 999/112 for emegency help immediately for drowning victims.

Check for a response

Check for response - adult

Open the airway

Open airway - adult

  • Help them to breath by opening their airway
  • To do this, place one hand on the forehead and using two fingers lift the chin.

Check breathing

Check for breathing -adult

  • 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).

Call for help

Call 999

  • If you have someone with you, send them to dial 999 (or 112) for an ambulance immediately
  • If you are on your own, go and call for help and then return, reassess and continue with CPR
  • If unconsciousness is due to drowning, you should give five initial rescue breaths and perform CPR for one minute before making the call.

Give 30 compressions

Chest compressions - adult

  • Place heel of your hand in the centre of the chest
  • Place other hand on top and interlock fingers
  • Keeping your arms straight and your fingers off the chest, press down by five to six centimetres and release the pressure, keeping your hands in place
  • Repeat the compressions 30 times, at a rate of 100-120 per minute (about the speed of the song 'Nelly the Elephant').

Give 2 rescue breaths

Rescue breaths - adult

  • Ensure the airway is open
  • Pinch nose firmly closed
  • Take a deep breath and seal your lips around their mouth
  • Blow into the mouth until the chest rises
  • Remove your mouth and allow the chest to fall
  • Repeat once more.

Continue CPR

Chest compressions

  • Continue resuscitation, 30 compressions to 2 rescue breaths
  • Do not stop unless:
    • emergency help arrives and takes over
    • they show signs of recovery such as coughing, opening eyes, speaking or moving purposefully and breathing normally
    • you become so exhausted that you cannot carry on.


More information about unconscious and not breathing adults

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a technique whereby oxygen is pumped around the body using a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths.

Unable, unwilling or untrained to give rescue breaths

  • Give chest compressions only and continue at a rate of 100-120 per minute (about the speed of the song 'Staying alive').

Two trained rescuers

  • Change every two minutes with minimal disruption.

Agonal breathing

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 without hesitation.


Related topics

Next steps

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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