Unconsciousness is the state in which a person is unable to respond to stimuli and appears to be asleep. They may be unconscious for a few seconds — as in fainting — or for longer periods of time.
This calls for immediate emergency attention. The sooner the person receives emergency first aid, the better their outlook will be.
Symptoms that may indicate that unconsciousness is about to occur include:
If you see a person who has become unconscious, first check whether they’re breathing.
If they’re not breathing
If they’re not breathing, have someone call 911 or your local emergency services immediately and prepare to begin CPR.
If they’re breathing
If they’re breathing, take steps to get them into the recovery position. This helps them maintain a clear airway and decreases the risk of choking.
This video from the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) will show you what the recovery position is supposed to look like.
You can also follow the instructions listed below:
- Kneel on the floor next to them.
- Take the arm that’s closest to you and position it so that it’s perpendicular to their body, forming a right angle. The hand should be facing upward.
- Take their other hand and position it so that the back of the hand is pressed against the cheek that’s closest to you. Hold this position through the next few steps.
- With your free hand, bend their knee that’s farthest from you. Their foot should be resting flat against the floor.
- Help them get onto their side by pulling on the bent knee. After you roll them over, ensure that their top arm is still helping to support their head.
- Tilt their head back and lift their chin. This helps open their airway.
- Check their airway to make sure there’s no obstruction.
- Keep an eye on their condition, and remain with them until emergency personnel arrives.
If they’re bleeding heavily
If there’s major bleeding occurring, find the source of the injury and place direct pressure on the bleeding area until the bleeding’s slowed and expert help has arrived.
In cases where the person is bleeding from their limbs, you could also apply a tourniquet above the bleeding area until expert help arrives. Learn how to apply a tourniquet here.
If the person has a severe wound, you should:
- elevate the part of their body that’s been injured (unless it’s the head)
- place a medium amount of pressure on their wound (unless they’ve injured their eye)
- help them lie down (so that if they happen to faint, there’s no chance of them falling and developing another injury)
CPR is a way to treat someone when they stop breathing or their heart stops beating.
If a person stops breathing, call your local emergency services or ask someone else to. Before beginning CPR, ask loudly, “Are you OK?” If the person doesn’t respond, begin CPR.
If you haven’t been trained in rescue breathing, perform chest compressions until medical help arrives. Chest compressions are also known as hands-only CPR.
- Lay the person on their back on a firm surface.
- Kneel next to their neck and shoulders.
- If they’re an adult, place the heel of your hand over the center of their chest. Put your other hand directly over the first one and interlace your fingers. Make sure that your elbows are straight and move your shoulders up above your hands.
- If they’re a child, only place one of your hands over the center of their chest.
- If they’re an infant, only place two fingers over the center of their chest, a little below their nipple line.
- Using your upper body weight, push straight down on their chest at least 1.5 inches for infants and 2 inches for everyone else. Then release the pressure.
- Repeat this procedure again for 100 to 120 times per minute. Many popular songs have 100 to 120 beats per minute and can help serve as a guide for how quickly you should be moving.
- Continue until help arrives or there are signs of movement.
- Once they come to, you can place them on their side.
To minimize potential injuries, only those trained in CPR should perform rescue breathing.
If you’re trained in CPR:
- Tilt the person’s head back and lift their chin to open up the airway. If the person’s an infant or a child, you may be able to open their airway with just a head tilt.
- Pinch the person’s nose closed and cover their mouth with a CPR face mask, creating an airtight seal. If a mask isn’t available, cover their mouth with your own mouth.
- Give two 1-second breaths and watch for their chest to rise.
- Continue alternating between chest compressions and breaths — 30 compressions and two breaths — until help arrives or there are signs of movement.
- Once they come to, you can place them on their side.
If unconsciousness is due to low blood pressure, a doctor will administer medication by injection to increase blood pressure.
Medical staff should treat any injuries that caused the person to become unconscious.
Common causes of unconsciousness include:
A person may become temporarily unconscious, or faint, when sudden changes occur within the body. Common causes of temporary unconsciousness include:
A person who received CPR while unconscious may have broken or fractured ribs from the chest compressions. The doctor will X-ray the chest and treat any fractures or broken ribs before the person leaves the hospital.
Choking can also occur during unconsciousness. Food or liquid may have blocked the airway. This is particularly dangerous and could lead to death if it isn’t remedied.
The outlook will depend on what caused the person to lose consciousness. However, the sooner they receive emergency treatment, the better their outlook will be.