Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Breathlessness & coughing in palliative care

HÄ“manawa me maremare ki te manaakitanga whakamaene

Being short of breath or breathless, can be common for people receiving palliative care. It can also be quite upsetting. The breathlessness might come and go, or it might last all day.

Several things can cause breathlessness, including:

If breathlessness is worrying you, see a doctor to find out what is causing it and to get help to ease your distress.

Your doctor will arrange treatment if that will help. This could include chemotherapy, radiotherapy or a change to your medications.

If your breathlessness cannot be medically treated, your doctor will need to check how anxious it's making you, how it's affecting your day-to-day life and how uncomfortable it is for you. They may have some other options for managing your breathing that can help.

Treating breathlessness

Several things can help to treat breathlessness. They include medicines, but they also include other strategies.

Strategies to treat and manage breathlessness

Medicines to treat and manage breathlessness

Medicines your doctor might try to treat your shortness of breath could include:

Your doctor may write you a plan to guide you in managing your breathlessness, so you know what to do and who to call if your usual strategies and medicines aren't helping.


Coughing can be a troublesome symptom and might interfere with your sleeping, eating, drinking and communicating.

Several things might cause coughing, such as lung cancer, a chest infection or a lung condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It often happens with other symptoms, such as breathlessness, wheezing or a tight chest. Your doctor will try to identify what is making you cough and treat it if possible.

Things that may help reduce your coughing include:

Your doctor might also prescribe other medicines to help suppress your cough, such as antibiotics or steroids.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2020.


Page reference: 350389

Review key: HIPAL-17434