First Aid Management for Respiratory Arrest

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Respiratory arrest is a condition where the lungs stop contracting efficiently resulting to cessation of breathing, thus oxygen cannot be delivered to the body.

Respiratory arrest is a condition where the lungs stop contracting efficiently resulting to the cessation of breathing, thus oxygen cannot be delivered to the body. When oxygen is not delivered to the different body parts, including the brain, it can result to a variety of symptoms. This does not necessarily mean that no blood is delivered to the organs, as the heart can still be active in cases of respiratory arrest. However, respiratory arrest is known to cause cardiac arrest, the sudden cessation of beating of the heart, thus no blood is pumped to the organs. Likewise, cardiac arrest may also lead to respiratory arrest.

First Aid Management for Respiratory Arrest
Respiratory arrest may be caused by obstructed airways.

Oxygen is necessary for the body to function. If oxygen is not returned to the vital organs within five minutes, it may lead to irreparable damage. One such complication that can arise from respiratory arrest is permanent brain damage. In some cases, respiratory arrest can lead to death. Respiratory arrests are considered a medical emergency and immediate first aid actions can help save a life. Enrol in First Aid Courses and CPR Training to learn more about how to treat and manage emergency cases.

Causes of Respiratory Arrest

There are many factors that may lead to respiratory arrest. Some of the plausible causes include:

  • Cardiac arrest
  • Airway obstruction (partial or complete): common in unconscious persons
    • Upper airway obstruction
      • Tongue displacement into the oropharynx
      • Blood, mucus, vomit
      • Presence of foreign body
      • Trauma
  • Lower airway obstruction:
    • Severe bronchospasm
    • Pneumonia
    • Pulmonary oedema
    • Pulmonary haemorrhage
    • Decreased respiratory drive
      • Central nervous system disorder
      • Metabolic disorder
      • Adverse drug effect
      • Respiratory muscle weakness
        • Fatigue
        • Neuromuscular disorders
        • Prolonged apnoea
        • Drug overdose
        • Seizures
        • Stroke
        • Injuries and infections

Signs and Symptoms for Respiratory Arrest

There are several signs and symptoms that may help determine when a person is suffering from respiratory arrest. The following are the signs and symptoms of respiratory arrest:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Absence of spontaneous breathing
  • No rise and fall of the chest
  • Cyanosis of the extremities, face, skin, etc. due to lack of oxygen

First Aid Management for Respiratory Arrest

The main goal of administering first aid in cases of respiratory arrest is to clean the airway and return ventilation as soon as possible. By administering first aid, effective treatment can be given.

  • Call for emergency medical assistance immediately.
  • Check for the casualty’s pulse, airway and breathing. In cases of respiratory arrest, the pulse is detected but no breathing. Kneel beside the victim’s neck and shoulders.
    • To check for pulse, place two fingers on the groove of the neck.
    • To check for breathing, place own cheek in between the nose and mouth of the casualty and feel for breathing on the cheek. Watch for rise and fall of the chest. Do this for 5-10 seconds.
    • If there is no breathing, give mouth-to-mouth breathing.
      • With the airway open, pinch the nostrils and seal the victim’s mouth with own mouth. Give two rescue breaths.
      • Perform CPR if necessary.
      • Do not leave the victims of respiratory arrest alone until professional help arrives.


Bortle, Charles D and Levitan Richard. (2013). Overview of Respiratory Arrest. Merck Manual. Retrieved on October 11, 2013, from

Difference between Cardiac Arrest and Respiratory Arrest. (ND). Retrieved on October 11, 2013, from

Respiratory Arrest. (2013). Ambulance Technician Study. Retrieved on October 11, 2013, from

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