As death approaches, you may alternate between periods of
rapid breathing and periods of no breathing. It is not unusual to stop
breathing for over a minute, then take another breath. This may happen during the last few hours or even the last few days of your life.
approaches, your breathing may become moist and congested. This has been called
the "death rattle." Breathing changes commonly develop when you are weak and
normal secretions in your airways and lungs become trapped.
Although the noisy breathing may be alarming to your loved ones, you
probably will not have pain or be aware of the congestion. Because the fluid is
deep in the lungs, suctioning will not remove it. Your doctor can prescribe
oral drops (atropine) or a patch (scopolamine) to decrease the
Your loved ones or caregivers can turn you on your
side to help the secretions drain from your mouth. Also, your caregivers can
remove the secretions frequently from your mouth with a moist washcloth or a
special mouth swab (available from hospice or purchased at pharmacies).
Your doctor may prescribe oxygen therapy or medicine to help relieve your shortness
of breath. Oxygen therapy may help you become more comfortable but will not
prolong your life. Narcotic medicine also can make it easier to breathe and will help you feel calm.
Primary Medical Reviewer
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Shelly R. Garone, MD - Palliative Medicine
July 12, 2010
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
July 12, 2010
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