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What You Need To Know To Perform Rescue Breathing


Man performing rescue breathing on CPR manikin

Whether you are performing CPR with rescue breathing or just hands-only, both are equally effective in saving a life. However, those who are medically trained may perform life saving measures with rescue breaths, especially in certain circumstances.


What Is Rescue Breathing

Rescue breathing is manually forcing air into a victim’s lungs when his/her body is not able to breathe on its own. The goal of rescue breathing is to do the work of the victim’s lungs to inhale and exhale. Rescue breathing is often paired with CPR, but CPR can successfully be done without rescue breathing.

Rescue breaths with pocket mask

Respiratory arrest is when someone is not breathing, and it is either when they completely stop breathing (apnea) or are breathing in ineffective gasps (agonal breathing).

It is important to note: even if it looks like the person’s chest or shoulders are moving in an attempt to breathe, if little to no air is actually moving through their body, they are in respiratory arrest and need CPR!

Some emergency situations that require CPR are:

  • Drowning
  • Drug overdose
  • Unresponsive infants/children
  • Unconscious adult who is not breathing
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Severe asthma attack
  • Cardiac Arrest
  • Traumatic Injuries

Rescue Breathing Rate

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends about one breath every 5 seconds and should only take 1 second to give.

Adult: 1 breath every 5 to 6 seconds; 10 to 12 breaths per minute

Infant or Child: 1 breath every 3 to 5 seconds; 12 to 20 breaths per minute

It is important to focus on quality of the breath over quantity. When performing rescue breaths, watch the victim’s chest and make sure it is rising with each breath! They don’t need “too much or too little” but just enough to see the chest rise and fall.

This video shows how to make sure you are giving good breaths.

American Heart Association Guideline Updates

Every 5 years, the American Heart Association (AHA) releases new guidelines for CPR, BLS, ACLS, and PALS. The most recent update in 2015 took into account how changing technologies and communication measures impact standards of intervention during a life-threatening events.

The AHA also changed its standards in 2015 to focus on compression only, or hands only CPR, for lay rescuers. Since that change, many lives have been saved due to increased willingness of bystanders to act since they were no longer required to give mouth to mouth breaths.

Mouth to mouth breaths were seemingly one of the largest fears potential rescuers faced when trying to help save somebody’s life. The fear of contracting an incurable illness caused hesitation, which wastes precious time.

The fear of contracting illness from the victim during rescue breaths should not stop you. The pre-hospital transmission of incurable diseases is estimated to be 1:17,000,000, which is incredible rare. This should ease most major concerns.

When Rescue Breathing Is Important

While hands only CPR is effective, especially in the adult population, the proven benefit of rescue breaths cannot be overlooked. Here are some scenarios that are important to consider:

Cardiac Arrest:

During cardiac arrest, not only does the victim’s heart stop but so does their respiratory drive. After about 13 minutes, all the usable oxygen in their blood is consumed and the person will become hypoxemic.

What You Need To Know To Perform Rescue Breathing

Hypoxia is when there is not enough oxygen in the body to sustain normal life functions. Hypoxemia is when there is a low arterial oxygen supply. Some publications use these terms interchangeably.

Once hypoxemia occurs, cellular death and acidosis begins, lowering a victim’s chance of survival. Rescue breaths prevent this by exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen like normal respiration.

Opioid Overdose:

The leading causes of death in America today is opioid overdose. Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids in the United States. Rescue breathing has a large impact on the outcome of opioid overdose.

What You Need To Know To Perform Rescue Breathing

When someone has too much of an opioid in the blood, their respiratory drive significantly decreases. As their respiratory drive decreases, the victim stops breathing. If rescue breaths are not given, death from hypoxia will eventually occur.

Narcan (naloxone) is commonly the focus when treating an opioid overdose. However, rescue breathing gets the oxygen they so desperately need into the blood and can drastically improve outcomes.


CPR Saves Lives

It begins with those who are ready and prepared to step up when an emergency arises. Be prepared to save a life by becoming CPR and first aid certified!

If you are in the Chicago area, contact Save-A-Life to customize your training needs.



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