How do you tell if an unconscious person is breathing? More specifically, how can you tell if an unconscious person is breathing normally?
It might seem obvious, but 'normal' breathing is relatively difficult to gauge, especially if you've never had CPR training (or even if you're receiving CPR instructions over the phone from an emergency dispatcher!).
What does normal breathing look like?'Normal breathing' is controlled by the respiratory control center at the base of the brain, and is regular, rhythmic and results in roughly equal amounts of air moving into and out of the lungs with every cycle. It can be slow or fast (the average rate is about 16 breaths per minute for an adult), but it should be a regular pattern.
What does abnormal breathing look like?Abnormal breathing in the adult victim can be characterized as way too fast (over 30 breaths per minute), way too slow (less than 8 breaths per minute) or some non-rhythmic, unpredictable breath pattern. Lay rescuers sometimes get hung up on something called agonal breathing. These are slow, deep breaths (4-6 breaths per minute) often accompanied by snoring sounds. They represent the brain's last ditch effort to keep air moving, and they are an ominous sign! Although the victim is still technically breathing, agonal breathing will not provide enough oxygen to the brain and other vital organs to keep them alive.
When do you know if you should start CPR?If more than 10 seconds has elapsed between breaths CPR should be started.
How to tell if an unconscious person is breathing:
Ensure the victim is on their back, and minimize neck movement.Perform a head-tilt, chin-lift to open airway.Lean close to the victim's face."Look, Listen, & Feel" for breathing. Look for signs that the chest is rising. Listen for the sound of the victim breathing. Feel for air movement.Perform the "Look, Listen, Feel" step for 10 seconds.If the victim is breathing normally, place them in the Recovery Position with their knee and hip bent, hand supporting their head. If the victim wakes up, assist them to a comfortable sitting or laying position, and loosen tight clothes or jewelry.If the victim is not breathing normally, consider Narcan if the victim is showing signs of an opiate overdose; otherwise, get in position and start CPR.
By knowing these simple steps, and having access to quality medical supplies, you can save lives while an ambulance is en route. If you're interested in learning how to stop the bleed, check out our blogs on how to apply a Tourniquet, QuikClot, and a Pressure Dressing.
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Learn more about the Mobilize Rescue App that provides instructions to manage severe bleeding & airway issues (including to help you perform an airway assessment!): https://mobilizerescue.com/product-compact-rescue-system