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The Unconscious Person – How to Treat Them



When you find someone that is unconscious, especially if you know the person, it can be a scary event. But time is of the essence in this medical emergency; and you can make the difference in this person’s outcome.

Unconsciousness is a state in which the person has suddenly become unresponsive and they appear to be asleep. The length of time that a person may be unconscious can last from seconds to minutes or longer. The reason a person becomes unconscious may vary; from a medical emergency such as a cardiac event or overdose to a traumatic event resulting in blood loss. Sudden or dramatic changes in the body may cause a temporary loss of consciousness, and some of these causes include:

  • Cardiac Arrest
  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar
  • Overdose (Alcohol, prescription medications and street drugs)
  • Seizure
  • Problems with the heart beat
  • Head or chest injury
  • Stroke
  • Heat Stroke
  • Severe blood loss
  • Dehydration
  • Emotional
  • Straining and hyperventilating


  • Very pale skin
  • Confusion
  • Sudden inability to respond
  • Slurred speech
  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Dizziness or light-headedness

If you suspect that a person may become unconscious keep them calm, lay them down, never give them anything by mouth and call 911 


An unconscious person may be treated using basic life support skills until professional help arrives.
If you find an unconscious person you need to follow these simple steps:

  1. Make sure that you are safe! Your safety is the MOST important of all. If the scene is not safe for you then you cannot help anyone.
  2. Call 911 and shout for an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).
  3. Check to see if the person is able to respond to you; talk and touch to get a response. Ask questions like can you hear me? And are you okay? Squeeze the shoulders tightly to check if the patient is able to respond.
  4. Check the person’s airway; Tilt the head and lift the chin to open the airway. If you find any blockage, turn the victim on the particular side to clear their airway.
  5. Check the person’s breathing by placing your ear next to their mouth; Look for their chest to rise, Listen for sounds and feel for air on your cheek;
    1. If the person is not breathing normally then lay the person flat on their back on a hard surface and start CPR – Start pushing hard and fast in the center of their chest. Think of the song Staying Alive to get the right rhythm.
    2. Use the AED by simply turning it on and following the prompts.
    3. Don’t stop the chest compressions or using the AED unless you become exhausted, the scene becomes unsafe, or someone else takes over.
  6. If the person is breathing well then place the person in the Recovery Position;
    1. Kneel down next to them on the floor.
    2. Place their arm nearest you at a right angle to their body, with their palm facing upwards.
    3. Take their other arm and place it across their chest so the back of their hand is against their cheek nearest you, and hold it there.
    4. With your other hand, lift their far knee and pull it up until their foot is flat on the floor. Now you’re ready to roll them onto their side. Carefully pull on their bent knee and roll them towards you. Once you’ve done this, the top arm should be supporting the head and the bent leg should be on the floor to stop them from rolling over too far.
    5. Next, it is very important that you check that their airway is open, so they can breathe and any blood or vomit from their mouth can drain away. To do this, tilt their head back, gently tilt their chin forward and make sure that their airway will stay open and clear.
    6. Remember that until help arrives you must keep checking that they are breathing.
  7. Keep the person still and warm. Cover the person to keep them warm (unless they already too hot).
  8. Keep checking that the person is breathing and is kept still.
  9. When the Paramedics arrive you should be prepared to pass on any information that you witnessed or actions that you took prior to their arrival.

The following should be avoided in the case of loss of consciousness:

  • Do not give an unconscious person anything by mouth; even if they regain consciousness.
  • Do not attempt to wake an unconscious person by slapping or shaking them or by putting cold water on the person.
  • Do not put a pillow under the head of an unconscious person, as this could block their airway.

While the situation can be scary, it is in you to help and make a difference in saving this person’s life. Stay calm, follow these few steps, and you can make a difference.



Pascal Rodier began his career in EMS in 1988 where he progressed through the ranks of the British Columbia Ambulance Service; finishing off as Superintendent. August 2012, he began his next adventure in public safety out on the East Coast where he is a part of the Medavie Health Services New Brunswick leadership team. He is currently the Operations Manager for Ambulance New Brunswick’s Saint John District.

Pascal brings experience in both urban and rural/remote EMS. He has extensive experiences in leading teams on large-scale events including commanding responses to multiple airplane crashes, multi- casualty incidents, EMS support for fire/Hazmat/CBRNE/ and civil unrest incidents, large scale civic celebrations, and the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

​In addition to Pascal’s varied education in emergency response and public safety, he also has a Master of Arts, in leadership (Health), from Royal Roads University and his Certificates in Emergency Management and Emergency Exercise Design from the Justice Institute of BC. As a subject matter expert on responder interoperability, he has consulted on a number of projects with organizations and governments at all levels.

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