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First Aid: Rescue Breathing

Rescue breathing is needed if a person collapses and stops breathing. In CPR, rescue breathing may also follow chest compressions if a person's heart is not beating. A person may need rescue breathing in the following situations:

  • Near drowning

  • Alcohol or drug overdose

  • Choking

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Severe asthma attack

By breathing into another person's lungs (rescue breathing), you can supply enough oxygen to preserve life. Act quickly, because brain damage can occur after only 3 minutes without oxygen.

  • If the person is an infant or child (age 1 to puberty) and he or she is not breathing, do chest compressions and rescue breathing for 2 minutes (5 cycles), then call 911.

  • In adults, call 911 first and begin CPR.

  • Please note: If you are alone, not trained in CPR, and a phone is nearby, call 911.

You may use a protective facemask.  Follow the instructions that came with the mask.

Step 1. Open the airway

  • Place the victim on his or her back.

  • Press your palm against the person's forehead. At the same time hook your fingers under the chin and lift it away from the spine, as if pulling out a drawer. This tilts the head back and opens the airway. 

  • If there is a possibility of a broken neck, place the victim on his or her back without moving the neck or chin.

Step 2. Check for breathing

  • Check to see if the chest is rising.

  • Listen for normal breathing (not gasping for air).

  • If there is no normal breathing, start mouth-to-mouth breathing as described in Steps 3 to 5.

Step 3. Pinch and seal

  • Adults and children (age 1 to puberty):

    • Keep the head tilted back and chin down.

    • Pinch the victim's nostrils together with your thumb and first finger. Or follow your facemask instructions.

    • If you don't have a protective barrier, seal your lips over the victims open mouth. 

    • Note: If the victim's mouth can't be opened, you can seal your lips over the victim's nose.

  • Infants (up to age 1):

    • Cover the infant's nose and mouth with your mouth or a protective barrier. 

Step 4. Start with 2 "rescue" breaths

  • Adults and children (age 1 to puberty):

    • Breathe into the victim's mouth for 1 second. Watch for the chest to rise.

    • If the chest rises, breathe into the victim's mouth a second time.

    • If the chest doesn't rise, tilt the victim's head back and chin down again. Then breathe into the victim's mouth a second time.

  • Infant (up to age 1):

    • Give 2 gentle puffs or breaths of air instead of a deep breath. Each puff is given 2 seconds apart because each gentle breath should last 1 second.

    • If the chest rises, breathe a gentle puff or breathe into the victim's mouth a second time.

    • If the chest doesn't rise, tilt the victim's head back and chin down again. Then breathe into the victim's mouth a second time.

    • If the chest still doesn't rise, check inside the mouth for a foreign object after chest compressions. If an object is visible, sweep the mouth with your fingers and remove the object. Take care not to push the object further into the throat.

Step 5. Give more breaths

  • Adults and children (ages 1 to puberty):

    • Give 2 breaths after 30 chest compressions until the person starts breathing or emergency medical services arrive.

  • Infants (up to age 1):

    • Give 2 breaths after 30 chest compressions until the infant starts breathing or emergency medical services arrive.

It is best to be prepared in the event of an emergency. Look for classes offered by the American Heart Association, or the American Red Cross in our area or on the Internet.

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: Pierce-Smith, Daphne, RN, MSN, CCRC
Last Review Date: 2/26/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.