Hospice: Understanding and Caring for Dyspnea
Dyspnea (also called shortness of breath) is common in persons with serious or advanced illness. It makes breathing difficult and uncomfortable and can cause much suffering. Families may be affected as well as they watch their loved one struggle to breathe. Because dyspnea can be distressing for both patients and families, it is important to understand the scope of this symptom and the ways it can be treated.
What Are Common Causes of Dyspnea?
There are many causes of dyspnea. It can occur due to lung problems, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It can be a symptom of other health problems, such as heart disease or cancer. And it may develop as any terminal illness progresses. Dyspnea often causes anxiety, which in turn makes breathing problems worse.
How Is Dyspnea Treated?
The main goal of treatment is to help the person breathe more comfortably. To do this, medications and other therapies are often used.
How Can Loved Ones Help?
A patient’s loved ones often aren’t sure what to do to help relieve breathing problems. Begin by asking the doctor for advice on how to help the patient. These tips may help as well:
Keep your loved one comfortable and safe:
Maintain a cool temperature in the patient’s room. Lower the thermostat, or place a fan where it can blow gently on the patient’s cheek. Keep a window open to let in fresh air, if weather permits.
Help the patient conserve energy. Put items such as medications and walking aids within reach.
If the patient uses oxygen, keep sources of flame away from where the oxygen unit is stored. Check that the oxygen unit is turned off when it is not in use. And be sure to keep a fire extinguisher in the house.
Don’t let breathing trouble isolate your loved one. Spend time with the patient doing normal activities. Eat meals, watch movies, and go outdoors with your loved one.
Provide calm support. Try to stay calm and relaxed around the patient. Patients can often sense when family members and caregivers are worried about them. This can add to their anxiety, and make their dyspnea worse.
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