Providing first aid in cases of respiratory distress and unconsciousness

Any emergency situation that causes a threat to a person’s health or life, an accident, an injury, a wound or a loss of consciousness has one thing in common: the injured person becomes unwell in an instant and needs help. Although the help for each injury that occurs must be selected individually, there are basic recommendations for action that must be kept in mind.

It must not be forgotten that every person is obliged to provide assistance, and in case of failure to do so, the Criminal Code provides for a penalty of up to 3 years imprisonment. To what extent should we provide assistance? Everyone must decide for themselves, according to their own abilities, knowledge and skills.

Even inexperienced first-aiders have a great influence on the course of the situation, if only by calling an ambulance or simple actions like talking to the injured, staying by their side while waiting for the ambulance to arrive and taking care of them.

When approaching any dangerous situation, follow the principle:

I recognize – I assess – I act

Remember that providing first aid does not necessarily mean actually performing medical actions. In any case, first aid should include making an emergency phone call to summon an ambulance.

First aid for respiratory distress

The air we breathe supplies the body’s cells with oxygen and expels carbon dioxide and other metabolic products from the body. If a person does not breathe, or breathing is impaired, basic life processes in the body cannot occur properly.

In the case of respiratory disorders, we must act quickly!

Even a few minutes can determine the long-term consequences.

Recognizing the situation:

First of all, we need to determine if there are breathing difficulties. We can do this through the method: see-hear-feel, which will take us about 10 seconds. Breathing disorders can also manifest themselves as bruising of the mouth area and difficulty speaking.

Seeing: Does the chest of the affected person rise and fall rhythmically?

I can hear: Can the sound of breathing be heard when you put your ear over the affected person’s mouth and nose?

Feeling: Can you feel breathing movements by placing your hands on the upper abdominal region of the injured person?

Determining the cause:

Respiratory distress can have many different causes. The most common symptoms of labored breathing:

Insect bite near the mouth

  • Can you see any outward signs of an insect bite?
  • Can the affected person provide information about allergies to insects (such as bees)?
  • Does the environment you are currently in indicate what type of insect bite it may be?

Foreign bodies in the trachea or esophagus

  • Can you tell from the outside what kind of foreign body and size is in the trachea or esophagus?
  • Can the person concerned provide information about the type of foreign body?


  • What is the cause of respiratory failure? Can it be mitigated quickly by first aid at the scene?
  • Can eyewitnesses tell how long the person was not breathing? (This is important information to provide when calling an ambulance).

Taking action:

Insect bite near the mouth

  • Talk to the affected person to determine what happened
  • Check breathing, determine if there is any swelling that makes breathing difficult

Sometimes it can help to change position – proper positioning will make it easier to catch a breath

  • Then lay the injured person down with his upper body raised (lean against a wall, for example, or sit on a comfortable chair with armrests).
  • When he is safe, call an ambulance as soon as possible
  • Alternatively, implement cold compresses to reduce local external swelling and give the victim an ice cube to suck on to reduce internal swelling (be careful not to swallow!).
  • Ensure that the injured person’s body stays warm
  • Continue to sedate the victim and keep checking his breathing
  • If loss of consciousness occurs, start CPR

Foreign body in the trachea or esophagus

Talk to the affected person to determine what happened

  • Check breathing and determine if there is a foreign body in the trachea or esophagus
  • Then lay the injured person down with the upper body raised (lean against a wall, for example, or sit on a comfortable chair with armrests)
  • It is necessary to remove any foreign bodies that are visible in the mouth (e.g., broken teeth) – Foreign bodies that are not visible in the mouth are not removed during first aid! They will be dealt with by the ambulance service upon arrival to remove them expertly in a safe manner.
  • Pat the victim’s back in a firm motion and ask him to try to cough, or press on the upper abdomen, which may make it easier to expectorate any foreign bodies
  • Call an ambulance
  • Ensure that the victim’s body stays warm
  • Continue to sedate the victim and check breathing on a regular basis
  • If loss of consciousness occurs, begin CPR

Respiratory arrest

Check whether the airway is unobstructed, if necessary, turning the victim’s head to the side, clear it with your fingers (do not move the head if you suspect damage to the cervical vertebrae).

  • Tilt the head to facilitate breathing – place one hand on the victim’s forehead, fingers of the other under the chin and tilt his head back.
  • Check breathing
  • If the injured person is not breathing, call out loudly for help
  • Ask the nearest person to call an ambulance
  • Lay the affected person on his back on a firm, stable surface
  • Ensure that the victim’s body stays warm
  • Begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR):

30 x chest compressions and 2 x air blows

Continue CPR until an emergency physician arrives. If there is no one to call for an ambulance, call the emergency number at this time.

Rhythmic chest compression, is indirect heart massage, which is a resuscitation procedure that saves lives. It involves steady compression of the heart at a point between the sternum and the spine, by pressing at the bottom of the sternum with the hands at a rhythm of about 100 compressions per minute. The pressure is performed with the wrists of the hands placed one on top of the other, where the fingers are intertwined. It should be performed quite firmly to cause displacement of the sternum toward the spine for about 4-5 cm.

When performing cardiac massage, artificial respiration should be performed simultaneously in the ratio: 30 chest compressions per 2 inhalations by the “mouth-to-mouth” or “mouth-to-nose” method. To perform the “mouth-to-mouth” way, you should:

  • kneel next to the injured person and, keeping the head tilted with the fingers of the hand, pinch the nose of the injured person
  • embrace the mouth of the rescued person with your own lips, inhale air from your own lungs into the lungs of the rescued person, while observing from the angle of the eye whether the chest of the rescued person rises during the air inhalation,
  • after each blowing in, expose the mouth of the rescued person and observe whether the chest descends,
  • maintain the frequency of rhythmic air blowing about 20 times per minute.

Using the mouth-to-nose method, the same steps are performed with the exception that you blow air into the victim through the nose, while occluding the victim’s mouth with your hand or your cheek. In the case where an infant or a small child is being rescued, you put your mouth wide against the child’s face so that you tightly cover the nose and mouth of the rescued person at the same time. Air should be blown in about 20 times per minute.

Keep in mind that even just performing heart massage, without implementing the mouth-to-mouth method, can save a life! In addition, you can buy small disposable CPR masks at the pharmacy, which are always worth carrying with you in case of emergency, for example, in your purse.