A pulmonary aspiration occurs when foreign objects (liquids, food, vomit, saliva) enter the lungs. This is often referred to as food “going down the wrong pipe.” These foreign objects can carry bacteria into your lungs. Healthy lungs are able to handle this on their own. However, unhealthy lungs can develop serious problems such as pneumonia. Other complications that may occur include choking, chemical pneumonitis, and asphyxiation.
Choking or coughing before or after you swallow is the main symptom of aspiration. This is your body’s way of trying to remove the foreign object from the windpipe. Other symptoms that may be experienced include a shortness of breath, wheezing, fast or noisy breathing, regurgitation, or impaired voice.
Conditions that depress the level of consciousness such as traumatic brain injury, alcohol intoxication, or general anesthesia may increase the risk factor for pulmonary aspirations. Those who are unable to cough due to a stroke or nervous system condition have the highest risk for aspiration.
An Ogden Clinic speech pathologist may be able to diagnose this issue by observing how one swallows liquid and solid food. An Ogden Clinic healthcare provider may even perform a test called a videofluoroscopic swallowing study. During this test, you will be asked to swallow a variety of different foods and liquids.
Treatment for pulmonary aspiration includes ensuring the airway is open under close observation. There are many things you can do to prevent aspiration such as taking smaller bites of food, refraining from speaking or laughing with food or liquid in your mouth, avoiding foods you know are difficult to swallow, and following the therapies recommended by your Ogden Clinic healthcare professional, including possibly undergoing a swallowing study.
Treatment for aspiration pneumonia will depend on how severe the pneumonia is. Some people may be hospitalized and require the use of a ventilator machine to assist in breathing. Others may only require antibiotic medication.