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
Recognition and treatment
- 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
- 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 trained to do
so, and they are unconscious. If you are not alone
dial 999/112 for emegency help immediately for drowning
Check for a response
- Shout a command at them:
- 'Can you hear me?'
- 'Open your eyes'
- Gently shake their shoulders
- If they respond, refer to the treatment for someone
unconscious but breathing - children
- 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
Call for help
- If you have someone with you, send them to dial
999 (or 112) for an ambulance
- 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
- 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
- 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 resuscitation, 30 compressions to 2 rescue
- 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
(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
Two trained rescuers
- Change every two minutes with minimal
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:
Follow us on Facebook
Stay up-to-date with first aid by being a fan of our Facebook page.