First aid for an unconscious person: ACLS certification guide

Unconsciousness is a serious medical emergency with potential complications. Lack of oxygen to the brain can cause brain damage, and choking can be fatal. Performing CPR may result in injuries like broken ribs, but it is crucial to attempt CPR and call for medical help promptly.

Here are the key steps for first aid when someone is unconscious:

  • Check if the person:
    • Has any airway blockage
    • Is breathing
    • Has a pulse or heartbeat
  • If there is no breathing or a weak pulse, call 9-1-1 and begin CPR.
  • If the person is breathing but appears dazed or confused, ask them basic questions to assess mental status.
  • If a spinal injury is suspected, keep the person’s neck supported and immobilized, and inform emergency services.
  • Avoid unnecessary actions like making the person drink liquids, sitting them up, splashing water, or placing objects under their head.
  • If an object is lodged in the throat, continue CPR and check for foreign objects before providing rescue breaths.
  • Do not leave the person unattended and seek immediate medical attention.

Remember, providing first aid is important, but seeking medical help promptly is crucial to minimize complications.

If the person is breathing:

  • Ask basic questions to assess mental status.
  • If there’s a suspected spinal injury, keep the neck supported and inform emergency services.

If the person is not breathing:

  • Carefully move them onto their back while protecting the neck for CPR.
  • CPR should be continued until medical help arrives in the absence of breathing, movement, or coughing.
  • Any other bystander must look for an AED. Before using it the person must know where should aed pads be placed.

Assessment through look, listen, and feel method was removed in 2010. Activate emergency response and start chest compressions for an unconscious or gasping person.

Temporary unconsciousness:

  • Fainting (neurally mediated syncope) is mostly harmless and does not require treatment.
  • Other causes include dehydration, low blood sugar/pressure, heart problems, and hyperventilation.

Things to avoid when providing first aid to an unconscious person:

  • Don’t give them liquids or make them sit up.
  • Avoid splashing water, shaking, or placing objects under their head.
  • Check for object obstruction before providing rescue breaths during CPR.
  • Don’t leave them alone; seek immediate medical attention.

Administer first aid to an unconscious person, but medical attention is crucial. The sooner they receive emergency care, the fewer complications may arise.

Have a look at our ACLS online course for details.


Unconsciousness is the inability to respond to stimuli. Follow simple steps: check vitals, call emergency services, and perform CPR if needed. Share all relevant information with emergency responders. Prompt hospitalization reduces complications.

This page was last reviewed and updated by on Jul 10, 2023.