CPR – how to do it

Key points about CPR and how to do it

  • In an emergency, CPR can save a life.
  • Would you know what to do if an adult collapsed or was unconscious? If a person collapses, they may need CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
  • Find out what to do if you come across someone who has collapsed or is unconscious.
Woman learning how to do CPR with dummy

(St John, NZ, 2010)

1. Assess any dangers 

Only approach the collapsed person if you think it’s safe to do so. Check for any immediate dangers such as traffic or electrical hazards.

2. Check whether the person is responsive

If it’s safe to proceed, check to see if they’re responsive by giving a simple command or question such as “Can you hear me?”, “What’s your name?” or “Can you squeeze my hand?”, then grasp and squeeze their shoulders firmly. Moving or making a noise counts as a response.

Someone who’s taken an excessive amount of drugs or alcohol may react aggressively or unexpectedly. If you’re unsure of your safety, avoid being too close.

If they don’t respond to your voice or touch, then they are unconscious and in danger of dying because of their airway becoming blocked.

3. Send for help

Call an ambulance by phoning 111 or send someone else to call. It’s important to call 111 as soon as possible so that advanced resuscitation help is on its way. You will be keeping the person alive with CPR, but they need additional care to start their heart.

4. Open and clear their airway

When a person is unconscious their muscles relax, including their tongue. This is dangerous because the tongue can flop downwards against the back of the airway and block it, meaning they can’t breathe.

  • Leave the unconscious person in the position you found them in to open and clear their airway.
  • Tilt their head back and lift the chin.
  • If you see anything in the their mouth, use 2 fingers to sweep it out.

5. Check to see if they’re breathing normally

When the airway is open and clear, check for normal breathing.

  • Look and feel for movement of the lower chest and upper abdomen.
  • Listen and feel for air coming from their mouth or nose.
  • Ignore occasional gasps of air which are inadequate to maintain life.

If the person is breathing, move them and support them on their side with their head tilted back and monitor their breathing.

6. If the patient is NOT breathing normally, start CPR  

Put the patient on their back then do the following:

  • Place the heel of one hand in the centre of their chest.
  • Place the heel of your other hand directly on top of your first hand.
  • Keep elbows locked and lean over them so your arms are straight.
  • Push down hard and fast 30 times (push down one-third of chest depth).
  • Don’t worry about pushing too hard – good CPR requires you to push hard and fast.
  • Once you have completed 30 compressions (pushes) on their chest, breathe into their mouth twice.
  • Compressing their chest is the most important part of CPR.

To breathe into the person:

  • Tilt their head back with one hand and lift their chin with the other.
  • Take a deep breath and seal your lips around their mouth.
  • Block their nose by pinching the soft part of it, or by pushing your cheek against their nose.
  • Blow into their mouth until you see their chest rise.
  • Remove your mouth, take a fresh breath, and blow again into their mouth.

Don't give up – keep going until help arrives, or until they are revived (regain consciousness and start breathing on their own).

If you have someone to help you, one person can do the chest compressions while the other person breathes into the person’s mouth. If you can't breathe into the person’s mouth or are uncomfortable doing it, just perform chest compressions.

If an AED (automated external defibrillator) is available, attach it to the person ASAP and follow the directions. 

Items such as handkerchiefs, tissues and tea towels don’t provide any useful protection from transmission of disease and complicate the process of performing CPR.

Commercially available face masks or face shields and other similar barrier devices may provide some protection from transmission of disease. However, bear in mind the following:

  • The risk of transmission of disease by CPR is extremely low.
  • First aiders are most likely to have to perform CPR on a relative.
  • Barrier devices may cause the first aider to inappropriately focus on the mouth-to-mouth aspect of CPR (when chest compressions are the most important).
  • Barrier devices complicate the process of performing CPR and are often not available when CPR is actually required.
  • If a barrier device is immediately available and you’re comfortable using it, then you may choose to use it.

Check out how to do child resuscitation(external link)(external link) and baby resuscitation CPR.(external link)(external link)

For basic life support guidelines, visit the New Zealand Resuscitation Council website.(external link)

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