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A death rattle is the sound produced by someone who is near death when saliva accumulates in the throat. Those who are dying may lose their ability to swallow, resulting in such an accumulation. Usually, two or three days earlier the symptoms of death can be observed as saliva accumulates in the throat, making it very difficult to take even a spoonful of water. Related symptoms can include shortness of breath and rapid chest movement. While death rattle is a strong indication that someone is near death, it can also be produced by other problems that cause interference with the swallowing reflex, such as the case with brain injuries.
It is sometimes misinterpreted as the sound of the person choking to death, or alternatively, that they are gargling. In hospice and palliative care, drugs such as glycopyrronium, hyoscine hydrobromide (scopolamine) or atropine may be used for their anticholinergic effects to reduce secretions and minimize this effect.
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