What is a Breathing Barrier?

Basically, a breathing barrier is a device that is used during resuscitation to lower the chances of communicable disease transmission between the rescuer and the victim. These barriers appear as though they are thin masks or sheets containing a one-way valve.

An airway barrier goes onto the victim’s face covering the mouth and nose preventing air leakage during rescue breaths.

Why Use a Breathing Barrier?

The following are the uses of a breathing barrier:

1. Protection from Contaminants: Safety is one of the main reasons. The probability of body fluid exchange is very high when you are in front of the victim providing mouth to mouth. This may cause you exposure to unwanted pollutants and bacterial infection.
2. Mental Comfort: The use of breathing barrier can be viewed as simply a feeling of calmness in your mind. A major concern for most people is that of direct contact, particularly with strangers, leading to many hesitant from performing CPR. A barrier can also make more people have the courage to save lives without fear.
3. Increased Efficacy: Some of these barriers have a one-way valve. It is meant to allow only the air to flow forward to the patient and not back to the rescuer’s mouth, making the whole process more effective and fast.

How is a breathing barrier used?

Using a breathing barrier during resuscitation is a straightforward process that can greatly reduce the risk of disease transmission. Here’s how you typically use one:

  1. Check the Victim: Before initiating any form of first aid, ensure that the scene is safe. Next, check the victim for responsiveness by tapping and shouting. If the person is unresponsive and not breathing (or not breathing normally), CPR may be necessary.
  2. Position the Victim: Lay the person on a flat surface, face-up. Open the airway by tilting the victim’s head back slightly using the chin lift or head tilt method.
  3. Place the Breathing Barrier:
    • For a face shield: Hold the shield in a way that the broader end is directed towards the chin. Position the shield over the person’s face, covering their mouth and nose.
    • For a pocket mask: Place the mask over the person’s face, ensuring it covers both their mouth and nose. The mask often has a cone shape, with the narrow end fitting over the nose and the broader end over the mouth and chin.
  4. Create a Seal: If you’re using a pocket mask, press down firmly around the edges to create a seal. This ensures that the air you breathe into the victim goes directly into their lungs and doesn’t escape from the sides.
  5. Give Rescue Breaths: Take a deep breath and breathe into the one-way valve of the barrier, making the victim’s chest visibly rise. It’s crucial to ensure that air isn’t escaping; if it does, you may need to adjust the barrier or apply more pressure to create a seal.
  6. Monitor the Chest: After giving a breath, watch the chest fall before providing the next breath. Ensure that the person’s chest rises and falls with each breath.
  7. Continue CPR: If the victim doesn’t show signs of life, continue with chest compressions as per the recommended CPR guidelines. Remember to maintain the recommended ratio of compressions to breaths.
  8. Dispose or Disinfect: Once done, if you’re using a disposable barrier, throw it away. If it’s reusable, like some pocket masks, clean and disinfect it according to the manufacturer’s instructions before storing it away.

Image alt text: what is a breathing barrier. An illustration of mouth-to-mouth with breathing barrier.

Author credit: By Rama, CC BY-SA 3.0 fr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20617

Having a breathing barrier on hand and knowing how to use it properly can be invaluable, especially in emergency situations where reducing disease transmission risk is essential.

Whether you’re a trained professional or a bystander, this tool can offer both protection and peace of mind.

Commonly Asked Questions

  1. What is a breathing barrier made of? A typical breathing barrier is made of thin, clear plastic or latex, often with a one-way valve attached to ensure safe, direct airflow to the patient.
  2. Can I use a DIY breathing barrier? While commercial barriers are designed for this purpose, in emergency situations where none is available, a cloth, towel, or shirt can act as a makeshift barrier. However, its effectiveness won’t match that of a specialized breathing barrier.
  3. How do I use a breathing barrier? Place the barrier over the victim’s mouth and nose. If there’s a one-way valve, ensure it’s oriented correctly. Press down to create a seal and give rescue breaths through the device.
  4. Where can I purchase a breathing barrier? Most medical supply stores, pharmacies, and online retailers offer breathing barriers, often as part of first aid kits.
  5. Do professionals use breathing barriers too? Yes! Medical professionals, lifeguards, and first responders often carry breathing barriers to ensure safety and hygiene during resuscitation.


Understanding what a breathing barrier is and its importance in first aid can be a matter of life and death. In scenarios where every second counts, hesitating because of potential health risks can have dire consequences. By ensuring the safety of both the rescuer and the patient, breathing barriers remove this point of concern, leading to quicker and more effective responses.

Moreover, in a world where health and hygiene have taken center stage, these barriers stand as testament to the need for preparedness and safety in every aspect of our lives. Whether you’re a professional first responder or a concerned citizen, understanding what a breathing barrier is and incorporating it into your first aid kit can make all the difference in the world. Remember, being equipped and informed not only saves lives but also ensures that the process is safe and effective for everyone involved.