Caregiver Care Guide - Trouble with Breathing

A caregiver's guide to helping a loved one under hospice care with the symptoms of trouble with breathing.

What are some Symptoms of Trouble with Breathing?

  • Feeling unable to “Catch my breath”

  • Rapid breathing

  • “Not getting enough air”

  • Shallow breathing

  • Feeling like “suffocating”

  • Pauses between breaths

  • Feeling like the “room is closing in”

  • Fear or anxiety

  • Congestion or “rattling in chest”


What can be done to Manage Trouble with Breathing?

  • Use medications and oxygen as instructed by the care team

  • Treat other concerns that may be causing trouble with breathing, such as anxiety or pain

  • Control secretions through coughing and deep breathing; stay hydrated

  • Focus on breathing technique by taking slow, deep breaths or using breathing exercises

  • Exercise One: Breathe in through the nose for two counts, pucker lips and exhale slowly through the mouth

  • Exercise Two: Sit in a comfortable position with hands resting on stomach. Inhale slowly through the nose and feel the stomach muscle relax. Then, tighten the stomach muscle and exhale slowly through pursed lips.

  • Increase air movement in the room by using windows or fans

  • Fan the face

  • Avoid environmental allergens, smoke and pollution

  • A cooler room often helps

  • Keep cool by applying cool washcloths to the face

  • Provide calm, quiet reassurance through presence

  • Elevate the head; sometimes leaning forward resting elbows on table can help

  • Conserve energy, plan activities that will decrease exertion


What are some of the Side Effects of Treating Trouble with Breathing?

  • Sleepiness from certain medications

  • Tremors, nervousness or increased heart rate from certain medications


If Trouble with Breathing is not managed or medication side effects do not improve, notify the hospice team.


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