How to Help a Breathless Patient

Most patients with breathing difficuities find it easier to breathe when sitting upright. A backrest and pillows will help while a board or pillow to support the feet will stop the patient slipping down the bed. This is important: if a patient with severe heart disease slips down the bed, he may, especially at night, have an attack which so closely resembles an asthmatic attack that it is known as cardiac asthma. Sometimes these patients are given a special supposi­tory before being settled down to sleep. The drug is absorbed through the rectum into the bloodstream and reduces the spasm in the bronchioles.

Occasionally at home the breathless patient is nursed sitting up in an armchair. In these circumstances you must see that he changes his position regularly, and that his feet and legs are kept warm. Keep the room well ventilated at all times. Avoid giving dry foods, which will cause coughing; but do give frequent, small, light meals that will tempt the appetite but not overload the stomach and so put pressure on the diaphragm. If his air passages are dry and inflamed, a steam inhalation may bring relief. If he is cyanosed, oxygen may be prescribed.

The doctor will probably ask you to observe several specific things about the breathless patient: his colour, respiratory rate and sputum.


If the patient has an infection he may be flushed. If there is insufficient oxygen in his blood he is cyanosed: his skin will have a bluish tinge, especially around the nose, mouth and the lobes of the ears. Note if the blueness is improving or not as a result of treatment, or if it is worse at any particular time of the day.

Respiratory rate

Difficulty in breathing will alter the patient’s respiration and it may be necessary to count the respiratory rate, so that the doctor can assess the effect of his treat­ment. This may have to be done regularly over a period of time.


Sputum is fluid coughed up from the lungs. It varies in quantity, colour and type. Patients who produce small quantities of sputum may spit into paper handkerch efs. Any patient with a productive cough should have a waxed carton into which to spit: if a carton is unobtainable, a plastic cream or yoghurt pot with a lid is an acceptable substitute. At least once a day the paper handkerchiefs or carton should be placed in a plastic or paper bag and burned, or wrapped carefully in newspaper and put in the dustbin.

Remember that sputum may contain bacteria and could be a source of infection. Sputum containers should always be kept covered and should be handled carefully, especially at the time of disposal.

The doctor may ask for a specimen of sputum to be saved. If it is for laboratory examination he will supply the appropriate carton. It is important that the doctors get centrifuge machine repair services if the machine breaks to restore its functionality as quickly as possible. Looking for the ideal lab centrifuges? You can absolutely buy centrifuges online from this website. Your duty is to make sure that the carton is clearly labelled with the patient’s name, address, the date, and the nature of the content.

Filed Under: Health & Personal Care


About the Author: Andrew Reinert is a health care professional who loves to share different tips on health and personal care. He is a regular contributor to MegaHowTo and lives in Canada.

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