Not breathing, which is also called apnea, is the lack of spontaneous breathing. It requires immediate medical attention. The victim may become limp and lifeless, have a seizure, or turn blue. Prolonged apnea is called respiratory arrest. In children, this can lead quickly to cardiac arrest in which the heart stops beating. In adults, cardiac arrest usually happens first and then respiratory arrest. The common causes of apnea in adults are obstructive sleep apnea (something blocks the airway during sleep), choking, drug overdose, near-drowning, head injury, heart irregularities (arrhythmia, fibrillation) or cardiac arrest, nervous system disorders, or metabolic disorders. In children the causes may be different, such as prematurity, bronchial disturbances or pneumonia, airway blockage or choking on a foreign object, holding the breath, seizures, meningitis, regurgitating food, or asthma attacks.
No pulse detected
If the rescuer is unable to detect a pulse or has difficulty in feeling a pulse it can be an indication of the use of improper technique by the rescuer, or shock or cardiac arrest in the victim. If a sudden, severe decrease occurs in pulse quality (such as pulse weakness) or pulse rate (how many beats in a minute) when other symptoms are also present, life-threatening shock is suspected. The rescuer may need to explain to a doctor or medical professional where on the victim's body the pulse was measured, if the pulse is weak or absent altogether, and what other symptoms are present.
Medical help and CPR are needed immediately if any of these symptoms is found. Time is critical. A local emergency number should be called immediately. If more than one person is available to help, one can call 911 or a local emergency medical service, while the other person begins CPR. Ideally, someone CPR certified performs the procedure. Local medical personnel, a hospital, or the American Heart Association teaches special accredited CPR courses. If a critically ill patient or post-operative patient is being cared for at home, it is a good idea for a family member to take a CPR course to be better prepared to help in case of an emergency.
The steps usually followed in CPR are as follows:
If the victim appears to be unconscious with either no breathing or no pulse, the person should be shaken or tapped gently to check for any movement. The victim is spoken to loudly, asking if he or she is OK. If there is no response, emergency help must be called and CPR begun immediately.
The victim is placed on his or her back on a level surface such as the ground or the floor. The victim's back should be in a straight line with the head and neck supported slightly by a rolled up cloth, small towel, or piece of clothing under the neck. A pillow should not be used to support the head. The victim's clothing should be loosened to expose the chest.
The rescuer kneels next to the victim, tilts the victim's head back, lifts the jaw forward, and moves the tongue forward or to the side, making sure it does not block the opening to the windpipe. The victim's mouth must be kept open at all times, reopening as necessary.
The rescuer listens close to the victim's mouth for any sign of breathing, and watches the chest for movement. If the victim is found to be breathing, and has perhaps fainted, he or she can be placed in the recovery position until medical assistance arrives. This is done by straightening the victim's legs and pulling the closest arm out away from the body with the elbow at a right angle or 3 o'clock position, and the other arm across the chest. The far leg should be pulled up over the victim's body with the hip and knee bent. This allows the victim's body to be rolled onto its side. The head should be tilted back slightly to keep the windpipe open. The head should not be propped up.
If the victim is not breathing, rescue breathing begins, closing the victim's nostrils between a thumb and index finger, and covering the victim's mouth with the rescuer's
mouth. Two slow breaths, about two seconds each, are breathed into the victim's mouth with a pause in between. This is repeated until the chest begins to rise. The victim's head should be repositioned as often as necessary during the procedure. The mouth must remain open and the tongue kept away from the windpipe.
When the chest begins to rise, or the victim begins to breathe on his or her own, the rescuer looks for signs of circulation, such as coughing or movement. If a healthcare professional has arrived by this time, the pulse will be checked before resuming resuscitation.
If chest compressions are needed to restart breathing, the rescuer will place the heel of a hand above the lowest part of the victim's ribcage where it meets the middle-abdomen. The other hand will be placed over the heel of the first hand, with fingers interlocked. Keeping the elbows straight, the rescuer will lean his or her shoulders over the hands and press down firmly about 15 times. It is best to develop an up-and-down rhythm, keeping the hands firmly on the victim's chest.
After the compressions, the rescuer will give the victim two long breaths. The sequence of 15 compressions and two breaths will be repeated until there are signs of spontaneous breathing and circulation or until professional medical help arrives.
L. Lee Culvert, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,