What Is Rescue Breathing?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Rescue breathing and CPR are two techniques used to save lives.
Rescue breathing and CPR are two techniques used to save lives.

When someone stops breathing and becomes unconscious, rescue breathing is a crucial tool to revive the individual or keep him or her alive until help comes. Rescue breathing, also known as artificial respiration, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or the kiss of life, involves essentially breathing for someone else, and it is universal skill of first responders and medical professionals. Many people learn rescue breathing and CPR, especially if they work with children or in large workplaces.

Rescue breathing essentially involves breathing for someone else.
Rescue breathing essentially involves breathing for someone else.

When someone stops breathing, brain damage can set in within minutes, as the body suffers from lack of oxygen. By administering CPR, a person on the scene can greatly increase the probability of recovery without permanent damage. In a situation where you encounter an unconscious victim who is not breathing, you should administer rescue breathing if no one else is available to do so. You may also be asked to perform CPR when you call an emergency service such as 911 or 999.

Those who lack training could cause harm if they attempt to administer CPR.
Those who lack training could cause harm if they attempt to administer CPR.

Before administering rescue breathing, it is important to clear the scene. Look for obvious hazards and try to eliminate them. For example, if your victim has been in a car accident, you should not administer CPR in the middle of the road. Ideally, you should wear gloves and use a respiration mask to give CPR. Position your patient on his or her back, and tilt the head back slightly to open the airway. Check for an obvious obstruction in the airway before beginning, and confirm that the person is not breathing.

Paramedics and other first responders are often called upon to administer rescue breathing to an accident victim.
Paramedics and other first responders are often called upon to administer rescue breathing to an accident victim.

Pinch the patient's nose shut gently and then position your mouth over the patient's to make a seal. Breathe into the patient's mouth, checking to see that his or her chest rises. Wait five seconds, repeat the breath, and check the patient's pulse. If the patient has no pulse, you will need to administer CPR. Otherwise, keep breathing every five seconds for the patient until he or she is able to breathe solo, or until emergency services arrive and take over for you.

Professional rescuers and healthcare providers may use a bag valve mask for rescue breathing.
Professional rescuers and healthcare providers may use a bag valve mask for rescue breathing.

If it becomes clear that your breath is not going into the patient's lungs, he or she has an obstructed airway. Use a gloved hand to gently pull the patient's jaw open, and look into the patient's throat for signs of an obstruction. You can swipe the obstruction out with the forefinger of your other hand, or you may need to use abdominal thrusts to force it out. If the patient vomits, turn him or her on his side.

Infants and children require one breath every three seconds, and they need to be handled with care to avoid the risk of injury. To maximize your effectiveness at giving rescue breathing and CPR, you should take a certified class.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon43904

i'm taking a first aid class and this information was very helpful.

anon38570

Very interesting.

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    • Rescue breathing and CPR are two techniques used to save lives.
      Rescue breathing and CPR are two techniques used to save lives.
    • Rescue breathing essentially involves breathing for someone else.
      Rescue breathing essentially involves breathing for someone else.
    • Those who lack training could cause harm if they attempt to administer CPR.
      Those who lack training could cause harm if they attempt to administer CPR.
    • Paramedics and other first responders are often called upon to administer rescue breathing to an accident victim.
      Paramedics and other first responders are often called upon to administer rescue breathing to an accident victim.
    • Professional rescuers and healthcare providers may use a bag valve mask for rescue breathing.
      Professional rescuers and healthcare providers may use a bag valve mask for rescue breathing.
    • Rescue breathing might be performed on someone after assistance from 911 is called in.
      Rescue breathing might be performed on someone after assistance from 911 is called in.