Shortness of Breath at the End of Life

People with advanced illness may experience shortness of breath. This can be uncomfortable and distressing. If it is not managed, your loved one may experience panic. Follow these tips to relieve shortness of breath.

To provide comfort and ease breathing:

  • Keep the room cool. Open a window or turn on the air conditioning; put a bowl of ice in front of a fan
  • Try changing position. Help your loved one to sit up a bit higher, to a 30 to 45 degree angle, or help them turn on their side
  • If one lung or side hurts more than the other, suggest lying with that side down
  • Coach your loved one to take slow, deep breaths and focus on relaxing
  • Use a fan aimed at the face and upper body
  • Try applying cool cloths to the face
  • Loosen clothing that appears tight or constricting, especially the collar or bra
  • If your loved one uses oxygen, check the mask and tank to ensure flow rate is correct and that the tubes are not kinked
  • Make the room quieter and less stimulating. Lower the volume of music or the TV, or encourage family members to speak quietly
  • Provide some distraction (favorite music, books or magazines, or comfort foods)
  • Arrange the bed or chair so your loved one can see out a window, if possible
  • Give medication for shortness of breath, as directed by your loved one’s hospice physician or nurse

To help prevent shortness of breath:

  • Conserve energy by keeping items your loved one uses frequently near the bed or chair
  • Make sure to use inhalers as ordered (about 15 to 30 minutes before planned activities)
  • Devote time daily to relaxation and meditation (spiritual and non-spiritual)
  • Let your physician or hospice care team know about things that may be causing anxiety

Tell your hospice care team right away if your loved one experiences any symptom of shortness of breath.

For more information, download our free patient guide today.

Are you caring for a family member or friend? Sign up for Caring Delivered, VNSNY’s free newsletter just for caregivers, and get the information you need.