Shortness of breath can be a frightening sensation even for healthy individuals. In hospice patients, shortness of breath is often one of the symptoms accompanying their overall condition. A fast response alleviates potentially dangerous symptoms and helps your patient feel better sooner.

What is Shortness of Breath?

In medical terms, shortness of breath is known as dyspnea. The term describes any kind of labored, difficult breathing or shortness of breath. Healthy individuals may experience dyspnea during strenuous exercise, at high altitudes, or when they are exposed to extreme temperatures.

However, shortness of breath is also a common symptom of hospice patients suffering from respiratory or lung disease. The sensation is terrifying. Patients feel like they are starved for air and simply cannot catch a breath. Even the smallest of tasks are exhausting because without being able to breathe they require excessive amounts of energy.

Going to the bathroom or even keeping up a conversation becomes an insurmountable effort. Most dyspnea patients find themselves unable to move far away from their bed or a nearby chair, even if they are supported by supplemental oxygen. Many sufferers can become frustrated, anxious, or agitated.

Responding Fast to Shortness of Breath

If you are dealing with a loved one struggling with shortness of breath, several small interventions can help the patient feel better within minutes. Remember also to give the person some space. Dealing with shortness of breath is tough, and they are allowed to express a little frustration and even anxiety.

Fast response remedies include:

  • Opening windows and doors to let in some cool, fresh air
  • Consider using a fan to blow air on the patient’s face
  • Position chairs and beds so they are facing a window. This may sound obvious, but a view can minimize the feeling of claustrophobia
  • A change of position in bed or a chair also helps. Sitting up high or leaning forward on a table can both relieve shortness of breath

Our hospice team can provide further support for home hospice patients, including oxygen and medication. Depending on the patient’s condition, increasing the flow of oxygen may be an option. For those who cannot tolerate a nasal cannula or additional oxygen, medications like morphine limit the feeling of being starved of air. We may also use anti-anxiety medication to treat shortness of breath because both conditions exacerbate each other.

Being unable or struggling to breathe can be severely life-limiting. Managing shortness of breath and understanding how to provide relief quickly is critical to improving a patient’s quality of life.