There is a common yet still misunderstood end-of-life sign in terminal patients known as a “death rattle.” What is it and how do you care for it?

A “death rattle” is a respiratory secretion which occurs when saliva and mucous build up in a patient’s throat. This is usually a consequence of a terminal person’s weakening or losing consciousness, when this happens they lose the ability to swallow or clear their throat. It may sound like a wet or crackling sound as the patients breathes, thus being referred to as a “death rattle.”

You can understand how the mere sound of struggled breathing can be a major concern for family and loved ones of the terminal patient, even though it may not necessarily indicate any respiratory complication. In these instances, hospice medical professionals may administer medications to mitigate saliva production like Atropine. A member of the hospice care team may also reposition the patient’s body in an effort to provide comfort as well as make it easier to perform oral care.

As this is a well-known end-of-life sign, family are encouraged to continue talking with the patient or hold their hand in an effort to provide comfort. This condition can last as long as 24-48 hours, however, it usually lasts only a few hours.

During this most difficult time, a Faith in Angels Hospice professional will always be there with the patient and the family to provide guidance and care.