In the days before death, people often begin to lose control of their breathing.
The body undergoes various changes when death when a loved one is approaching the end of life. The dying process can be a gradual and peaceful one, but also unique. When a loved one –especially those who are terminally ill or very old – is about to die, the body’s normal systems start to operate more slowly. This results in many changes in bodily function. One such change can be observed in the way they breathe.
In the days and hours leading up to a person’s death, it is not unusual for their breathing to become irregular. The intervals between each breath could be seconds or even minutes apart. This is as a result of secretions in the throat or the relaxing of the throat muscles. Known as the 'death rattle', this phenomenon causes noisy breathing and is believed to occur in about half of people whose end is near, Medical News Today writes.
The sound varies. It may be a crackling, wet noise that is amplified as the person breathes. In other cases, it may sound like a soft moaning with each breath, or a very loud gurgling or snoring.
The article added that the death rattle can also occur when the dying person is no longer able to swallow, cough or clear saliva and mucous from their throat.
A similar breath-related change in the last days of a person’s life is the phenomenon called Cheyne-Stokes breathing. It is named after the physicians John Cheyne and William Stokes who first described the abnormal pattern of breathing in patients as they approach death, according to Cross Roads Hospice.
Patients who experience Cheyne-Stokes breathing will take several breaths followed by a long pause before regular breathing resumes. These cycles of breathing will become increasingly deeper and can be difficult for family members as they wait for the final breath to come.
Medical News Today: Death Rattle: Signs, meaning and duration
Cross Roads Hospice: Breathing patterns before death
Health Direct: The physical process of dying