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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Unconscious but breathing

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If someone collapses, they may be unconscious. An unconscious person may seem to be asleep. This may just last for a few seconds if someone faints, or it may last longer. If they do not respond to noise or touch, it's likely they're unconscious.


Phone 111 and ask for an ambulance if:

Helping someone who is unconscious

Remember DRAB: Danger, Response, Airway and Breathing.


Check for any danger to you and the unconscious person. Look around for dangers like fire, electricity and traffic. If it's safe, carry on. If not, make it safe before going any further.


Is the person responsive? Loudly ask questions like "Can you hear me?" and "Can you open your eyes?" and watch to see if there is any response. You can also gently shake their shoulders or ask them to squeeze your hand.


Do not shake their shoulders if you suspect they may have a back or neck injury.

Do not shake a baby if they're younger than 1 year. Tickle or tap the soles of their feet or rub their forehead instead.


Check they can breathe. If something is blocking their airway and you can safely remove it, do so using your thumb and forefinger. If it's stuck, do not touch it as you may force it further into their airway. If it's stopping them breathing, follow the advice for choking.


Recovery positionConfirm that they're breathing. Place your fingertips on their chin and lift the chin. At the same time, place one hand on their forehead and gently tilt their head back to open their airway. Do not do this if you suspect they may have a back or neck injury.

Now look to see if they're breathing. Look for their chest rising and falling, feel their breath on your cheek, listen for their breathing.

If they aren't breathing or stop breathing, begin CPR for adults & children or CPR for babies.

If you suspect they may have a back or neck injury and they aren't breathing, start CPR, but do not tilt their head back.

If they are breathing, follow these steps:

If they may have a back or neck injury

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed December 2022.


Page reference: 285328

Review key: HIFAD-141030