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Keywords:

  • breathlessness;
  • furosemide;
  • opioids;
  • palliative care;
  • sensory receptors;
  • shortness of breath

Abstract

Objective – To review the human and veterinary literature regarding the neurophysiology of dyspnea and to provide evidence for the beneficial effects of several novel therapies aimed at the alleviation of dyspneic sensations.

Data Sources – Data sources included scientific reviews, case reports, original research publications, and recent research conference proceedings.

Human Data Synthesis – The use of blood oxygenation level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging technology has revealed that the brain regions activated by air hunger in humans are also those activated by fear, pain, and thirst perception. In human subjects, it has been found that agents known to enhance the firing of pulmonary slowly adapting receptors (SARs) can alleviate the sensation of dyspnea without altering central respiratory drive. Several small studies have also shown that nebulized opioids can reduce the sensation of dyspnea apparently via activation of peripheral opioid receptors in the lung.

Veterinary Data Synthesis – There are several animal models relevant to both small and large animal clinical patient populations. Treatment of rats with a nebulized SAR sensitizing agent (furosemide) enhances SAR firing in response to lung inflation. Behavioral escape responses to airway occlusion are reduced in lightly anesthetized cats when treated with nebulized furosemide. Opioid agonists have been shown to inhibit the release of acetylcholine and other mediators from the airways of dogs and guinea pigs. Studies using a goat model with bilateral destruction of the pre-Bötzinger Complex do not support current paradigms of air hunger origination.

Conclusions – Veterinary patients may benefit from an approach to dyspnea that incorporates an understanding of the origins of the unpleasant sensations associated with the condition. Several novel therapies have shown promise in alleviating dyspneic sensations without altering respiratory drive. Further study is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of these therapies in veterinary patients.