Breathing Difficulties

Shortness of breath (SOB) is a common symptom at the end of life.  It can occur with disorders of the lungs such as cancer or COPD.  It can also be a result of fluid retention.  If the patient feels he/she cannot get enough air, it can be very distressing.  If the patient has had difficulty breathing in the past, or has a disease prone to cause shortness of breath, the nurse will order the necessary equipment (oxygen) and medications to be kept in the home.

Shortness of breath can be managed with oxygen therapy, breathing treatments, and other medications including morphine and anti-anxiety medications.

Non-medical treatments include: 

  • Frequent rest periods between activities
  • Sitting up makes breathing easier – elevate the head of the bed or place pillows under the patient’s head
  • Use a fan to keep the air moving
  • Use a humidifier in the winter
  • Try relaxation techniques (prayer, meditation, music)