Understanding the Differences Between CPR and Rescue Breathing

In our everyday life, we have a priority to shield our health and try our best to help others do the same. But, with our fast-paced lifestyle it is hard to predict or even recognize the arrival of a health emergency, and in such situations, we rely on others for help and life support aid before a medical team gets involved.

Life-saving measures like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR can be of extreme help when trying to prevent fatal outcomes. Helping increase the victim’s survival and recovery rate, CPR and rescue breathing are important skills to have. Knowing about and how to perform them is fundamental knowledge that can save a person’s life.

CPR: The Breakdown

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, commonly known as CPR, is a first-aid technique that everyone can learn to perform and is found helpful in case of a sudden halt of the heart beating. For someone in medical distress, administering proper CPR can be a life-saving measure that increases the chances of recovery and survival.

Performing CPR correctly consists of doing rhythmic compressions on the chest, which helps create the effect of an artificial pump that does the work of the heart manually. This supports proper blood circulation through the body and preserves blood flow to the brain, thus preventing brain damage until medics reach the victim.

Traditional CPR, when there is one rescuer, follows the 30:2 ratio – meaning 30 compressions combined with 2 rescue breaths. This is the most conventional form of CPR, but there is a simplified technique that omits mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, commonly known as hands-only CPR.

It is crucial to note that CPR can be performed on cardiac arrest victims or those who don’t have an evident heartbeat. On the other hand, heart attack victims might need different kinds of help since they suffer from a blocked blood flow that can’t reach the heart.

What About Rescue Breathing?

Rescue breathing is an emergency aid that should be offered to people who stop breathing or suddenly collapse but still maintain a regular heartbeat.

Rescue breathing is a way to deliver oxygen to help keep the body alive by breathing air directly into the victim’s lungs. Since the human body needs oxygen to function in times of urgency, help should be delivered quickly because brain damage can occur after several minutes.

If the victim has difficulties breathing and lacks a pulse, it’s time to perform CPR. That way, with the help of CPR, the victim’s body receives sufficient blood circulation and oxygen flow until medical teams reach the scene.

Different rescue breathing techniques may be required depending on the breathing emergencies, the age of the sufferer, or the situation. Below, we go over the four types of rescue breathing:


In this technique, the rescuer places their mouth over the victim’s mouth and breathes air into the lungs. The rescuer needs to pinch the nose of the victim, create a seal with their mouth and deliver enough air to make the victim’s chest rise.


This technique is used in cases when mouth-to-mouth is impossible, so the rescuer uses their mouth to pass air through the victim’s nose.


This approach is used on infants and children up to age 8. The rescuer covers the child’s mouth and nose with their mouth and carefully delivers not-too-forceful breaths.


This breathing method prevents the risk of spreading infections between the rescuer and the victim. It involves using a protective mask, a pocket mask or a bag-valve mask.

Rescue Breaths: Who May Need Them?

Often, breathing emergencies can be caused by invisible trauma such as gas poisoning or severe allergies. These are some of the cases where a sufferer may need the help of a rescue breathing technique:


      • Near drowning accidents

      • Choking

      • Experiencing an overdose

      • Ingesting a poison

      • Having severe asthma attacks

    How To: A Rescue Breathing Technique

    When trying to offer first aid help, there are a few critical steps you should take before engaging with the victim.

    First, make sure to call 911 or have a bystander do it. Providing CPR should not replace professional help, but we can do everything in our power to help a victim until EMTs reach the scene.

    Make sure to check the victim’s pulse and their surroundings for bleeding or the presence of an electrical current. Also, check the victim’s mouth for any foreign objects to ensure you have clear airway management. If there is absence of a heartbeat, it is recommended that you do CPR.

    When giving rescue breaths to a baby or a child who has a pulse, but is not breathing, you should administer one rescue breath every couple of seconds, while adults with the same condition should receive 10-12 breaths in a single minute.


        • Step 1: Open the airway: For proper airway management, place the victim on their back and check for any neck bleeds or injuries. If there is no evident abrasion, move the victim’s head by lifting the chin away from the spine. Tilting the head back opens the airway.

        • Step 2: Look to see if the chest rises and listen for normal breathing. If the victim is gasping or struggling to breathe, start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

        • Step 3: Pinch, then seal. Pinch the nostrils with your thumb and forefinger, then cover the victim’s open mouth. If the mouth can’t be opened, seal your lips over the nose.

        • Step 4: Breathe into the mouth for one second and watch if the victim’s chest rises, which means that air enters the lungs. Continue to give rescue breaths until the emergency team arrives. Make sure to check the pulse every 2 minutes. If there is no pulse, begin performing CPR.

      If you decide to use a protective cover or mask while performing mouth-to-mouth, check for any additional directions on the packaging.

      If the victim does not have a pulse, it is recommended to begin with the CPR steps, which focus on chest compressions, until professionals take over.

      Things To Consider

      Some emergency cases like drowning or a respiratory arrest can cause a momentary confusion when helpers need to decide which steps to take since they are unsure whether they should perform CPR or rely on mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

      Attending a course for CPR certification is advised to learn all the necessary steps, understand how and what type of a procedure rescuers should perform, and understand methods such as CPR for drowning victims or CPR for respiratory arrest.

      Victims of respiratory failure experience a state where they stop breathing but still maintain a regular pulse. That indicates that CPR for respiratory arrest is unnecessary since the solution relies on successful ventilation.

      On the other hand, drowning victims are likely to experience cardiac arrest due to a lack of oxygen. If there is an absent pulse, CPR for drowning victims is recommended, where compressions and rescue breaths are combined after an initial round of mouth-to-mouth.

      Another consideration when weighing CPR vs. rescue breathing is that chest compressions alone come before rescue breathing. In its guidelines, the American Heart Association has reformulated the previously known “ABCs” of CPR (airway, breathing, compression) to “CAB” (compression, airway, breathing).

      Following this, a popular CPR technique update has been introduced. Compressions-only CPR is a safer and easier measure in times of urgency as bystanders who are willing to help might be unsure of how to provide rescue breathing properly.

      CPR Vs. Rescue Breathing: Conclusion

      CPR and rescue breathing are both emergency techniques that can be useful and life-saving in events where people succumb to an injury, trauma, or sudden cardiac arrest and need bystander help.

      Although CPR and rescue breathing are both life-extending practices, they should not replace professional help, so always make sure to contact 911 before you begin performing life saving measures.

      Cardiopulmonary resuscitation finds use in cases of cardiac arrest or where the victim has no pulse and needs compressions to manually mimic the work of the heart while combining rescue breaths in the procedure. It is recommended that everyone enrolls for a CPR certification to learn how to perform all CPR steps calmly and effectively.

      Rescue breathing is beneficial for cases where victims have a pulse, albeit weak, but have troubled or collapsed breathing. By delivering air to the victim’s lungs, rescue breathing helps to keep normal oxygen levels in the body.

      It is recommended to know and understand the difference between these practices in order to perform them correctly if needed.