Difficulty breathing is one of the most stressful symptoms for patients with chronic lung conditions, and colder fall and winter temperatures can exacerbate respiratory problems. The dry, cold air tightens airways, resulting in heavy coughing, excessive mucus, shortness of breath, and increased discomfort.

Patients often rush back to the emergency room to address breathing issues, and the cycle is repeated without individual-focused continuity of care. How, then, can hospice caregivers help their loved ones with end-stage pulmonary disease like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), lung cancer, and other lung conditions stay comfortable? How can they avoid hospitalizations and address symptoms at home?

Discover important tips on managing lung conditions in cold weather and how Heart to Heart Hospice’s specialized pulmonary program helps both the patient and caregiver breathe easier.

Minimizing Cold Weather Effects on Lung Disease

Regulating body temperature is often difficult for those at the end of life, but keeping mobile as long as possible is important for circulation and mental health. A short walk outdoors or porch visit is good for body and soul; however the cold weather can be especially aggravating for hospice patients with lung conditions.

Consider these practical steps to help alleviate respiratory discomfort as the outside temperatures drop:

  • Keep up healthy habits and sleep routines. Continue to eat well, maintain sleep schedules, and get out of bed daily if possible. Reduce stress as much as possible, including too much activity or noise.
  • Wear a scarf or cold-air face mask over your nose and mouth when outdoors. Cold-air face masks are available at most drug stores.
  • Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth when outside.
  • Thirty minutes before going outside, take a preventative dose from your bronchodilator. Carry your rescue inhaler as well.
  • Avoid smoking or being around others who smoke. The combination of smoke and cold air further restricts airways.
  • Woodburning stoves and fireplaces may trigger lung irritation.
  • If your home is dry from your heating system, consider buying a humidifier to make the air more moist.
  • Avoid going outside if the air quality is poor and pollution levels are high.
  • Lung disease can increase risk for pneumonia, so discuss annual flu shots with your doctor.

Benefits of Specialized Pulmonary Care

Hospice referrals for end-stage lung conditions often come too late in disease progression. The roller coaster of symptoms and its unpredictable nature means patients enter a revolving cycle of doctor’s appointments, ER visits, hospitalizations, and uncomfortable frustration. Though it can be difficult, earlier conversations about end-of-life care ultimately benefit the patient’s comfort and quality of life.

Studies also show that patients on hospice live 29 days longer than those who are not. This can provide families important time for goodbyes and closure. Plus, patients often want to live out their final days at home surrounded by loved ones.

Heart to Heart Hospice’s Care Bridge Pulmonary Care is our specialized program to assist end-stage lung disease patients. A hospice team of trained nurses, aides, volunteers and support staff provides consistent, patient-centered care with a customized plan for pulmonary diseases. Under the Care Bridge Pulmonary plan, patients’ priorities include physical comfort, symptom management, stabilization, and increased quality of life. 

Some services include:

  • Nurse visits, medical equipment and supplies, and non-curative therapies.
  • Educating the patient and caregiver about lung disease and management. 
  • Providing 24/7 on-call support to reduce the need for hospitalizations.
  • Heart to Heart’s PULMONARY WARNINGS tool for identifying and rapidly responding to symptom changes. 
  • Increasing caregiver confidence with the Pulmonary Patient and Caregiver Guide and Patient and Family Handbook.
  • Emotional and spiritual support.
  • Caregiver relief via respite care and volunteer visits.
  • Bereavement care and support for end of life arrangements.

ER visits and hospitalizations are reduced, as well as decreased anxiety, fear, and emotional pain for both the patient and family. Hospice care helps families manage medical needs and the associated grief of dealing with a terminal illness.

Lung Conditions & Qualifying for Hospice Care

When doctors have determined patients have a life expectancy of six months or less and curative treatments are no longer desired or working, patients can qualify for hospice coverage. Once referred, hospice care is nearly 100% covered by Medicare, Medicaid, VA, and/or health insurance plans.

Your patient may quality for hospice if they experience:

  • Disabling shortness of breath at rest (dyspnea).
  • Frequent ER visits or hospitalizations for lung infections or respiratory failure.
  • Continued functional decline (bed to chair existence, fatigue, cough).
  • Low levels of oxygen or high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood.
  • Unintentional weight loss of more than 10% over six months.
  • Advanced-stage lung cancer.
  • OR your patient chooses not to pursue any further curative treatment.

If you or a loved one has an advanced-stage lung disease, it’s never too early to discuss palliative care (comfort care as curative treatments are pursued) or hospice care (symptom management without curative treatment). Choose the services you need to make those final months of life more comfortable with support tailored to your individual care.

Heart to Heart Hospice serves areas of Indiana, Michigan, and Texas. Contact us today for hospice care that offers comfort, provides support, and preserves dignity.