School Nurse Emergency Highlight - Unconscious

A school’s duty of care to its students ensures school staff provides full medical care in response to unpredictable injury or illness, particularly if a student is unconscious.

Student First Aid - School Nurse Emergency Highlight - Unconscious


  1. Check for breathing by tilting student’s head backwards then look at their chest, listen at their mouth and nose, and feel for breaths with your hand or cheek for 10 seconds.
  2. If breathing, move student onto their side in recovery position and tilt head back to help keep airways open.
  3. If no breaths are felt, Call 000 immediately and commence CPR.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I look and feel for breaths? Look at a student’s chest to see if it’s moving, listen at their nose and mouth, and feel for breaths on your hand or cheek.

Why move a student onto their side and tilt their head back? Moving a student onto their side and tilting their head back will help keep their airway open by ensuring their tongue falls forward and any blood or vomit drain out.

What should I do if a student is feeling faint? Advise them to lie down on their back and raise their legs to improve blood flow to the brain. Fainting is caused by a temporary reduction in the flow of blood to the brain and can result in a brief loss of consciousness. A student who has fainted should quickly regain consciousness. If they don’t, treat them as unconscious.

Why do I have to tilt a student’s head back to check for breathing? When anyone is unconscious, their tongue can fall backwards and block their airway. Tilting their head backwards opens the airway by pulling the tongue forward.

If I think a student has a back or neck injury, should I still turn them on their side? It is still advisable to move them onto their side. Your priority is to keep them breathing. Try to keep their spine in a straight line when turning them. If possible, get someone else to help you turn them.

Should I try to talk with a student? Yes. Talk to a student and reassure them. Even though they might not respond to you, they may still be able to hear what is going on.

How do I do chest compressions? Place the heel of one hand on the centre of the student’s chest and the heel of the other hand on top of the first, lacing your fingers together. Push firmly downwards in the middle of their chest and then release. Let the chest rise completely before pushing down again. This keeps blood pumping around their body and helps keep the vital organs, including the brain, alive, and may dislodge an airway obstruction.

How many chest compressions and rescue breaths should I do? 30 chest compressions, then two breaths into the student’s mouth with their head tilted back and nose pinched. Chest compressions should be hard and fast at a rate of 100 compressions per minute until help arrives.

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