Hospice & Palliative Care

Breathing Changes at End of Life

Breathing Changes at End of Life

It is common for many people nearing the end of their life to experience changes in their breathing patterns. Breathlessness and increased effort around breathing are normal for those close to death. Our Hospice Team can help you understand the changes that are occurring for your loved one and how best to manage them.

Breathing changes at end of life

Leading up to death, your loved one may experience many breathing changes. These breathing difficulties - whether wheezing, breathing fast, flaring nostrils or labored breathing - can be concerning for loved ones to witness.

Some simple things can help your loved one be as comfortable as possible. This can be as easy as making sure the room is cool, their pillow is elevated, to ensuring their medications for breathing easier are taken.

  • Apply lip balm to help keep lips moist
  • Ask hospice nurse to help you give good mouth care
  • Reposition patient as needed

We know it can look scary when you see someone you love struggling for breath, looking pale or bluish, and coughing up secretions or mucus. Our hospice care providers can help you with remaining calm and assisting your loved one in being as comfortable as possible as they near the end of their life.

Signs that death is near

Respiration patterns before death can seem abnormal with deep and sometimes fast breathing that gets more shallow as time goes on and is then followed by apnea, or a temporary lack of breathing.

Also when approaching death, many people experience what is called a “death rattle” where the patient's throat sounds highly congested due to not swallowing or clearing their throat. Typically your loved one will not be bothered by these breathing patterns or secretions.

With the help of your hospice care provider, you can learn proper positioning and mouth care to help ease your loved one’s breathing as much as possible.


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