Unresponsive and breathing: learn first aid

Adult first aid for someone who in unresponsive and breathing, including how to check for breathing and what to do in an emergency.

Someone who is unresponsive won't answer or move if you call their name or tap their shoulders. If it's an adult who is unresponsive, gently shake their shoulders. Shout for help.

Step 1. Check if they are breathing. Tilt the head back - is their chest moving? Look, listen and feel for breaths.

When a person is unresponsive, their muscles relax and their tongue can block their airway so they can no longer breathe. Tilting their head back opens the airway by pulling the tongue forward. 

Find out what to do if they are not breathing.

A woman tilts a mans head back to check for breathing step 1 check if they are breathing, look, listen and feel for breaths

Watch this short animation to see how to tilt someone's head back.

Step 2. If they are breathing, move them onto their side and tilt their head back.

Putting them in this position with their head back helps keep their airway open. It ensures their tongue falls forward and blood and vomit drain out. It is sometimes called the “recovery position”.

Two people help an unresponsive man on the floor. Step 2 if they are breathing, move them onto their side and tilt their head back

Step 3. Call 999

Close-up shot of a man holding an iPhone dialling 999

Watch Raluca's story to learn first aid for someone who is unresponsive and breathing

Meet Raluca, a woman who provided basic first aid to an unresponsive but breathing man until medical assistance arrived. Skip to 0:37 seconds for the step-by-step first aid process.

Frequently asked questions about first aid for someone who is unresponsive and breathing 


What is the recovery position?

The “recovery position” is commonly used to describe how someone who is unresponsive and breathing should be placed so that their airway stays open and they can continue to breathe. 


If I think they have a back or neck injury, should I still turn them on their side?

Yes, if you suspect a back or neck injury, you should still move them on to their side so they can keep breathing. Try to keep their spine in a straight line when turning them. If possible, get someone to help you turn them.


Should I try talking to someone who is unresponsive and breathing?

Yes, talk to them and reassure them. Even if they do not respond to you, they may still be able to hear what is going on.


What do I do if the unresponsive person’s breathing doesn’t seem normal?

Sometimes when a person is unresponsive their breathing may become noisy, irregular or gasping. This is usually a sign that their heart and lungs are not working properly and you should treat them as an unresponsive person who is not breathing.


What should I do if someone is feeling faint?

If someone is feeling faint, tell them to lie down on their back and raise their legs. This will improve the blood flow to their brain.

Fainting is caused by a temporary reduction in the flow of blood to the brain and can result in them becoming unresponsive for a short time.

A person who has fainted should quickly become responsive again. If they don't, treat them as an unresponsive person.


Where can I find first aid advice for unresponsive but breathing babies and children?

Find out:


Test your knowledge on unresponsive but breathing first aid with our free First aid app quiz