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  • Aspiration Pneumonia


    Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. Aspiration pneumonia is an infection that develops after foreign items are accidentally inhaled into the lungs. This is a potentially serious condition that requires care from your doctor.
    Food Inhaled into Lung
    lung aspiration food
    Food has entered air sacs of the lung, cause a build up of green mucus, and decreases the flow of oxygen—blue arrows.
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    Only air should enter the airways of the lungs. Sometimes foods, liquids, or vomited stomach contents may accidentally get into these airway. Inhaling can move these substances further into the lungs. This is called aspiration. Once the substances is in the lungs, it will cause an irritation an swelling in the lungs. This creates an opportunity for an infection to develop.
    Most people can prevent aspiration by creating a strong cough. However, some people may have impaired coughing ability. This may happen in people who are unconscious, have brain injuries or have trouble swallowing foods or liquids.

    Risk Factors

    The following factors increase your chances of developing aspiration pneumonia:


    If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to aspiration pneumonia. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
    • Increased cough
    • Increased sputum production
    • Fever
    • Decreased energy
    • Chest pain
    • Change in mental status
    • Trouble breathing
    • Weight loss


    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. To look for an infection or specific causes of the infection your doctor may ask for:
    • Blood tests
    • Sputum test
    Your doctor may also need to take detailed pictures of your lungs. This is done with a chest x-ray . You may also be asked to use a barium swallow during you x-ray. This will help demonstrate swallowing problems.
    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and do a physical exam. During the exam, your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope. Tests may include the following:


    Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:


    Antibiotics are used to treat aspiration pneumonia. In some cases, you may need to go to the hospital to receive antibiotics directly into the veins through an IV. In other cases, antibiotics may be taken by mouth.

    Breathing Assistance

    In severe cases, aspiration pneumonia can cause breathing problems. You may be placed on a machine to help with breathing.
    If you are diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia, follow your doctor's instructions .


    To help reduce your chances of getting aspiration pneumonia, take the following steps:
    • Follow your doctor’s orders when fasting before any surgery. This will lower the chance of vomiting while you are unconscious.
    • If you have a swallowing problem, talk to your doctor and speech specialist about ways to help prevent aspiration.
    • If you drink alcohol, only drink in moderation.


    American Lung Association http://www.lungusa.org/

    American Speech-Language-Hearing Association http://www.asha.org/


    Canadian Lung Association http://www.lung.ca/

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index%5Fe.html/


    Ferri F, ed. Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2010. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2009.

    Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Textbook of Internal Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2008.

    Mason RJ, Mason R. Murray & Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2007.

    Pneumonia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated August 27, 2012. Accessed October 3, 2012.

    Pneumonia in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated August 27, 2012. Accessed October 3, 2012.

    Rakel R. Textbook of Family Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.

    Rakel RE, Bope ET. Conn's Current Therapy. 60th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.

    Revision Information

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