Respiratory Secretions
Can something be done to manage respiratory secretions when someone is dying?

It’s common for secretions to build up in the lungs of people who are nearing death. The dying person usually doesn’t have enough strength left to cough and clear the fluids that continue to be produced by the lungs. Gradually these secretions collect.

Generally it’s not helpful to suction secretions when someone is near the end of life. The irritation from the plastic tube tends to cause more secretions to be produced. So medications are the preferred treatment, and they’re effective to some degree in most situations. Medications, such as scopolamine or glycopyrrolate, can help dry these secretions. One way scopolamine can be easily administered is by placing a small patch on the skin, usually behind the ear.

At times there doesn’t seem to be anything that helps to decrease secretions. People at the bedside may notice that the secretions seem to drain better if the patient is lying on one particular side. Yet, by the time secretions start to collect, the patient usually isn’t alert enough to be aware of them. It may help to explain to visitors that the person who is dying and is not conscious, likely isn’t aware of or distressed by the secretions.