accessibility & help

Questions and answers about helping someone who isunconscious and not breathing

Here are some questions people often ask. If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please feel free to email us at firstaid@redcross.org.uk or use this form.

Q

Why do I have to tilt their head back to check for breathing?

Answer
Answer

When a person is unconscious, their tongue can fall backwards and block their airway. Tilting their head backwards opens the airway by pulling the tongue forward.

Close
Q

How do I look and feel for breaths?

Answer
Answer

Once the head is tilted back, look to see if their chest is rising and falling. If they are breathing, you may also feel breaths on your cheek.

Close
Q

How long should I do chest compressions for?

Answer
Answer

You should keep going until help arrives. If there is someone else who can help, change over every one to two minutes, with minimum interruption to chest compressions.

Close
Q

What are chest compressions?

Answer
Answer

Chest compressions are where you place your hands in the centre of the chest and repeatedly press downwards and release at a regular rate to help pump the blood around the body.

Close
Q

Will I break their ribs?

Answer
Answer

You might, but don’t worry about this. Remember: your priority is to keep the blood circulating. A damaged rib will mend, but without delivering chest compressions their chances of survival are significantly reduced.

Close
Q

Do I do chest compressions differently on a child or baby?

Answer
Answer

The approach is the same, but chest compressions should be modified slightly for children or babies. For a child aged between one year old to puberty, use one hand only. For a baby (under one year old), use two fingers.

Close
Q

What if I’m on my own when I find someone unconscious and not breathing?

Answer
Answer

If you are on your own, call 999 before you start chest compressions.

Close
Q

How do I do mouth to mouth?

Answer
Answer

If you feel able to, after about 30 pushes on their chest, you can give two steady breaths into their mouth or nose. Seal your mouth over either their mouth or nose, closing the other, and blow air into them with two steady breaths. On a baby (under one year old), you need to seal your mouth around both their nose and mouth because their faces are so small.

Close
Q

Aren’t I supposed to do mouth to mouth too?

Answer
Answer

If you feel able to, you can combine chest compressions with breathing into their mouth or nose. However, giving chest compressions is the most important because their blood already has some oxygen in it and the compressions will keep that blood pumping about their body, taking oxygen to their brain. Breathing into their mouth or nose tops up the oxygen in their lungs. The combination of continuous cycles of 30 chest compressions followed by two breaths is called CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

Close
Q

What if I make a mistake and do chest compressions, but the person is still breathing?

Answer
Answer

It’s not ideal but don’t worry – there’s no evidence to suggest you will cause any serious damage.

Close
Q

What is a defibrillator?

Answer
Answer

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a machine that can be used to shock the heart back into normal rhythm. Once opened, the machine gives full instructions on what you should do.

Close
Q

Will I restart the heart if I give chest compressions?

Answer
Answer

The chance of restarting the heart by chest compressions alone is very slim. To restart, a heart usually needs an electric shock from a defibrillator. Chest compressions pump a small amount of blood around the body to keep the organs – most importantly the brain – alive. You may not see any visible change in the person’s condition, but don’t give up. Chest compressions significantly increase the possibility of the person being successfully resuscitated when the emergency services turn up.

Close
Q

Can I use a defibrillator?

Answer
Answer

Yes, you can use an automated external defibrillator (AED). Many public places, such as train stations and shopping centres, now have one available. The machine may not even shock the person if that isn’t the best action to take. Even when the machine does shock them, it doesn’t always mean that their heart will restart afterwards.

Close
Q

What should I do if someone has been in a drowning accident and is unconscious and not breathing?

Answer
Answer
Once you have got the person onto dry land without endangering yourself, check to see if they are breathing by tilting their head back and looking and feeling for breaths. If they are unconscious and not breathing, push firmly downwards in the middle of their chest at a regular rate, as you would with any other person who is unconscious and not breathing.

In the event of someone drowning, it is ideal to give rescue breaths in addition to chest compressions to build up a supply of oxygen in the blood. After about 30 pushes on their chest, give two steady breaths into their mouth or nose. To do this, seal your mouth over either their mouth or nose, closing the other, and blow air into them with two steady breaths. On a baby (under one year old), you need to seal your mouth around both their nose and mouth because their faces are so small. Continue this cycle of 30 chest compressions followed by two breaths until help arrives.
Close

Why not explore more?

Related

First aid symbol

Baby and Child First Aid

Young woman checks for breathing on a baby

Learn online what you should do in a range of baby and children first aid emergencies.

First aid products

First aid kit and its contents

Check out our range of first aid supplies, including books, kits and videos.

Explore our products >

Emergency response UK

Volunteers comforts a couple after an incident

Day or night, in an emergency you’ll be there to help when someone needs it most.