Home Health Tips for Managing Dyspnea in At-Home Patients

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People who are diagnosed with an advanced illness or are nearing their end-of-life may feel a shortness of breath or breathlessness. This sensation, called dyspnea, results in some discomfort and difficulty breathing, which can cause a lot of suffering to the patient. It’s also difficult for the family to see their loved one in distress and struggling to breathe. For that reason, it’s essential for caregivers and home care service providers to know how to manage dyspnea and reduce the suffering of the patient.

What is Dyspnea?

Dyspnea is a subjective sensation of the inability to catch one’s breath or an uncomfortable awareness of breathing. Sometimes referred to as “air hunger,” dyspnea can range from mild and temporary to severe and long-lasting. It is a common symptom in patients with cancer, heart failure, and chronic lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Because breathing is something we generally take for granted, individuals experiencing dyspnea often experience heightened anxiety, which can cause more stress to the patient. Anxiety can cause cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physical manifestations that also have the potential to exacerbate dyspnea, so it’s important to manage a patient’s anxiety too.

Medical Dyspnea Interventions

Dyspnea should be treated as a serious condition that requires the attention of the patient’s attending physician. While palliative care and home care are designed to provide comfort to the patient, having the presence of the doctor or nurse is still the best option. Otherwise, there are some medical treatments that can be done in hospice and palliative-care settings, such as:

  • Administering oxygen, which is the first line of treatment.
  • Administering morphine to dilate the blood vessels in the lungs and reduce the patient’s respiration rate. 
  • Using anti-anxiety medications to reduce the feelings of anxiousness and increase the patient’s comfort level.

Anti-anxiety medication should be used with caution as it also has the potential to make the symptoms of dyspnea worse. Consult with the patient’s doctor first before administering medication.

Non-Medical Dyspnea Interventions

While most medical interventions for dyspnea require the presence of a doctor, there are other ways to provide comfort to the patient and manage their symptoms. These non-medical techniques are best done while you wait for medical help to arrive.

One of the things you can try is applying a couple of relaxation techniques like playing relaxing music or performing a massage on the patient. A relaxing touch could work wonders in making a patient feel more relaxed. You may also consider using guided imagery or medication, which are two techniques that might help. Other non-medical interventions you can perform include:

  • Cooling the room and making sure the patient is wearing lightweight clothing.
  • Increasing the humidity level in the room.
  • Using a fan to blow air directly at the patient’s face, provided he or she can tolerate the feeling.
  • Opening a nearby window for a breeze or a breath of fresh air.
  • Providing emotional support to the patient in any way possible.


Providing palliative care means prioritizing the comfort of the patient at all times, including managing dyspnea symptoms. The sensation caused by dyspnea can be one of the most distressing feelings ever, which only proves how important these techniques are in keeping the patient calm and comfortable as much as possible.

When it comes to home health care in Denver and Colorado Springs, Gateway Home Health & Hospice is here to help. We are committed to providing the highest quality home-based patient care to patients and their families. Trust our care providers to instill an environment of relaxation and fulfillment whenever we take care of you. For compassionate home care services, trust Gateway Home Health & Hospice. Contact us to learn more about our patient-centered approach. 

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