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Managing Shortness of Breath Near the End of Life

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Watching an aging family member struggle to catch their breath can be frightening. Imagine feeling like you’re suffocating, and you’ll begin to understand how the shortness of breath can trigger moments of crisis. Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea, is commonly associated with chronic conditions such as heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or interstitial lung disease. It’s a common cause of distress for people in hospice care and their family caregivers.

nurse and patient discuss managing shortness of breath near the end of life

The good news is that hospice care includes proven therapies to manage shortness of breath. When families have the plan to anticipate and manage breathing problems, they can focus on patient comfort and improving quality of life. Compassus understands that managing shortness of breath near the end of life is difficult, but families can worry less with suitable therapies and support.

Families facing managing shortness of breath near the end of life are not alone in their journey. Compassus has dedicated hospice professionals available to support and care for aging family members and guide families through this challenging process. Call us today at 833.380.9583 to find out how we can help your family.

Medical and Non-Medical Relief

Shortness of breath can trigger panic, making breathing even more difficult. This cycle of breathlessness and panic can spiral downward into unwanted trips to the emergency room. The hospice team can help you learn ways of managing shortness of breath before it becomes a crisis.

Non-Medical Options

Some non-medical options for managing shortness of breath can include:

  • Use a fan to move air across the face
  • A hospice nurse may teach a breathing technique called diaphragmatic breathing
  • Training in pursed-lip breathing may help some patients
  • Relaxation techniques keep problems from escalating
  • Correcting poor posture can help relieve pressure on the diaphragm and lungs
  • Increasing humidity levels or lowering the room temperature sometime makes breathing easier
  • Reduce irritants such as smoke, dust, and pet dander

Medications to Relieve Symptoms

A complex mix of disorders can contribute to breathing problems, including chronic diseases, anemia, infections, and many more. An initial assessment helps identify underlying causes and offers caregivers treatment and response plans. Morphine is a reliable and effective method to combat shortness of breath. Beyond providing relief from the sensation of not being able to take in adequate amounts of air, it will also help reduce any agitation or anxiety a patient may feel due to its calming effects.

Close contact with family caregivers enables the hospice team to find the right level of medication to improve quality of life without causing impairment. Family members sometimes fear morphine will be addictive or hasten death. Research shows that morphine, given in a hospice setting, can reduce air hunger and improve a patient’s energy level. Labored breathing takes work. Low doses of morphine can often help patients relax and catch their breath.

Therapies for Shortness of Breath

At Compassus, we use therapies for shortness of breath that cover the entire spectrum of care. We help patients find comfort with a range of treatments, such as:

  • Oxygen therapy – Oxygen delivered through a mask or nasal cannula can ease breathing and reduce the feeling of air hunger. Oxygen is considered safe for end-of-life care, and hospice teams often recommend it as a first-line treatment.
  • Treating exacerbations – Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation contributing to difficulty breathing.
  • Chest physical therapy (CPT) – Clears lung secretions, helping patients breathe more easily.
  • Breathing treatments – Some breathing treatments, such as nebulizers, can help reduce inflammation and lung congestion, making breathing easier.
  • Comfort measures – Comfort measures such as positioning, massage, or reassurance can help patients feel better and less anxious while managing shortness of breath.

Compassus provides comprehensive care for managing shortness of breath near the end of life. Our specialists are here to offer supportive therapies and guidance for families facing this difficult time.

Contact Compassus to Learn More About Therapies That Can Help

Ultimately, managing shortness of breath near the end of life is an individual experience. The hospice team at Compassus will help you find relief for your loved one and give you peace of mind that they are getting the care and support they need to stay comfortable. Our goal is to ensure their final days are as comfortable and dignified as possible. Contact us today at 833.380.9583 for more information about managing shortness of breath at the end of life.