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Breathing Care

For a patient who is very ill, the process of getting air in and out of the lungs can be difficult at times. Fortunately, there are measures that can assist with breathing.

Breathing difficulties are often referred to as "shortness of breath" or "air hunger." These difficulties can creat a decreased oxygen level in the body. Signs of low oxygen may include a restless or anxious feeling, as well as a faster breathing rate. If tehse symptoms occur, there are some things you can do to help the patient breathe easier.

ThingsYou Can Do To Help:

  • Be calm and reassuring.

  • Raise the head of the bed or place more pillows behind the back and head.

  • Have the patient sit up and lean forward. This position will help the lungs fill more easily.

Oxygen Therapy

Your primary nurse will check the patient's breathing during each visit. Tell your nurse if you or the patient have noticed any breathing problems. If breathing problems exist, the nurse will discuss the possible need for oxygen. If oxygen therapy is needed, the doctor will decide how much the patient will need. The nurse will contact a medical supply company. The company will set up the oxygen therapy and expain to you how to use it. Two common ways of giving oxygen therapy are by face mask or nose cannula. Both of these devices increase the amount of oxygen available for the patient to breathe.


As patients become weaker, there is often a decreased cough reflex and secretions may collect in the airway. It can be very distressing for the patient and family, since it may appear that the individual is drowning or suffocating from his or her own secretions. Although this symptom most commonly occurs when a patient has a decreased level of consciousness, if the patient is alert, the respiratory secretions can cause the patient to feel extremely agitated and fearful of suffocating.

Things You Can Do To Help:

Notify the hospice team to ensure appropriate medications are ordered. Your primary nurse will assess the patient to determine potentially treatable underlying causes, including infection or inflammation. If physical findings suggest congestive heart failure, for example, the hospice team may start diuretic therapy for fluid overload; if pneumonia is present, antibiotic therapy will be initated. If the onset is sudden and associated with acute shortenss of breath and chest pain, it might suggest a pulmonary embolism or myocardial infarction.

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