Normal breathing is essential to maintaining life. A person who is gasping or breathing abnormally and are unresponsive require resuscitation.

Causes of Ineffective Breathing

Breathing may be absent or ineffective as a result of:

  • Direct depression of, or damage to, the breathing control centre of the brain
  • Upper airway obstruction
  • Paralysis or impairment of the nerves and/or muscles of breathing
  • Problems affecting the lungs.
  • Drowning
  • Suffocation.

Assessment of Breathing

There is a high incidence of abnormal gasping (agonal gasps) after cardiac arrest. All rescuers should use a combination of unresponsiveness and absent or abnormal breathing to identify the need for resuscitation.

The rescuer should maintain an airway and assess for normal breathing:

  • LOOK for movement of the upper abdomen or lower chest.
  • LISTEN for the escape of air from nose and mouth.
  • FEEL for movement of air at the mouth and nose.

Movement of the lower chest and upper abdomen does not necessarily mean the person has a clear airway. Impairment or complete absence of breathing may develop before the person loses consciousness.

Normal Breathing Rates
Adults15 years and older12-20 breaths/min
Older Child9-14 years15-20 breaths/min
Younger Child1-8 years20-30 breaths/min
Infant0-1 year30-40 breaths/min