Aspiration pneumonia is more common in people who have neurological disorders or impaired consciousness and, therefore, impaired reflexes. Aspiration pneumonia requires prompt treatment to cure the infection and ensure the body is getting enough oxygen.
This article explains the causes, treatments, and prevention of aspiration pneumonia.
What is aspiration pneumonia?
Aspiration pneumonia is a type of pneumonia that can develop after inhaling a substance other than air into the lungs. In the context of aspiration pneumonia, “aspirate” means to take in a substance by aspiration.
The material may consist of food particles, foreign bodies, stomach contents, or secretions from the mouth or throat. Material inhaled from the mouth and throat carries bacteria with it. These bacteria begin to grow and cause an infection in the lungs.
What causes aspiration pneumonia?
Usually, you swallow secretions or stomach contents, such as those from acid reflux, or cough them up before they enter your airways.
Aspiration pneumonia can occur if your swallowing or coughing reflexes – the body’s protective mechanisms – aren’t working as they should. This increases the risk of fluid or other material entering your lungs. It can also occur when the force of the aspiration is sufficient to overcome these reflexes.
Bacteria from the aspirated material cause the infection. The specific bacteria that cause infection may vary depending on the type of suction or material and other factors.
In addition, aspiration can cause inflammation and damage to the airways. Doctors can see changes on a chest x-ray as little as 2 hours after suctioning.
What makes aspiration pneumonia more likely?
Changes in mental status, altered consciousness, or neurological disorders may increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia. These conditions can affect the person’s ability to react to a foreign substance in the airways. The person may have difficulty swallowing or coughing.
Underlying conditions and situations that may make aspiration more likely may include:
Children without these conditions also have an increased risk of aspiration pneumonia – mainly older infants who may inhale foreign bodies, such as nuts.
Aspiration pneumonia is serious. If you suspect that you or someone you are caring for has aspirated a foreign object, contact a doctor immediately.
Learn more about pneumonia risk factors here.
What are the symptoms of aspiration pneumonia?
Symptoms may include, but are not limited to:
- sudden shortness of breath
- decreased blood oxygenation shown on a pulse oximeter
- crackling sound when listening to the lungs with a stethoscope
- noisy breathing, gagging, and hiccups in infants
- chest pain with breathing which can be severe
If you suspect that you or someone you are caring for may have aspiration pneumonia, contact your doctor immediately. Dial 911 if:
- shortness of breath is severe
- loss of consciousness occurs
- bluish or pale skin or nail color
Know the warning signs of pneumonia.
How to diagnose aspiration pneumonia?
Doctors usually diagnose aspiration pneumonia with a chest X-ray or CT scan. They will also check blood oxygenation levels.
Diagnosis may involve bronchoscopy to visualize the airways from the inside. A bronchoscope is a tube with a camera at the end. They insert it into the mouth or nose and down the throat to the airways, including the trachea, bronchi, and lungs. With bronchoscopy, the doctor can also remove any secretions or other foreign bodies.
How to treat aspiration pneumonia?
Treatment of aspiration pneumonia has two goals: to promote the flow of oxygen in the body and to cure the infection.
It is important to start treatment with antibiotics immediately, as delaying it can lead to more serious illness. Treatment usually takes place in a hospital to help prevent serious complications.
A range of treatments may be needed, including supportive care, procedures and medications.
Measures may include:
- using supplemental oxygen
- positioning to stay upright and avoid additional aspiration events
- suction to clear the airways
- prepare foods that are safe to swallow
These may include:
- bronchoscopy to remove material from the airways and obtain specimens for culture
- washing out the airways with a sterile antibiotic solution, known as bronchoalveolar lavage
- mechanical ventilation to maintain breathing, in severe cases
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These can include antibiotics. A healthcare professional may administer them intravenously or provide them to be taken by mouth. Medications may also include synthetic steroids, such as prednisone, which decrease inflammation.
Aspiration pneumonia is a serious condition. How well a person recovers depends on their general health, how severe the aspiration is, how quickly treatment begins, and how they respond to treatment for pneumonia. Rehospitalizations are common and recovery can be long.
The likelihood of a good outcome increases with careful monitoring, taking medications exactly as directed, attending follow-up appointments, and taking steps to prevent further aspiration.
What are the potential complications of aspiration pneumonia?
Potential complications of aspiration pneumonia can include:
Learn about the dangers of pneumonia here.
What are the ways to prevent aspiration pneumonia?
The following strategies, taken in part from the Merck Handbook, can help reduce the risk of aspiration and aspiration pneumonia:
- Reduce dose or discontinue use of sedatives.
- Raise the head of the bed to minimize reflux of stomach contents.
- Use a thickening agent in liquids to make them safer to swallow.
- If you have difficulty swallowing, practice with a speech therapist to swallow more effectively.
- Stay up to date with your vaccinations, including the pneumococcal vaccine.
Talk to your doctor about other means of prevention specific to your situation or that of a loved one.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some other questions people ask about aspiration pneumonia.
How serious is aspiration pneumonia?
Aspiration pneumonia is a serious condition that poses a significant risk of complications and is fatal in some cases.
How do you get aspiration pneumonia?
You can get aspiration pneumonia by inhaling liquid, food, or stomach contents into your lungs.
How long can you survive with aspiration pneumonia?
How long a person survives with aspiration pneumonia depends on many factors, so it is difficult to establish the duration. Your general condition, how quickly you receive treatment and your response to treatment for pneumonia all play a role.
Is it painful to die from aspiration pneumonia?
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a person with aspiration pneumonia may experience pain and discomfort, both from the pneumonia and from the invasive procedures that may be needed to repair it. treat.
Aspiration pneumonia is a bacterial infection of the lungs caused by inhaling a liquid or solid material. Prevention is always a key part of managing aspiration pneumonia. If someone has a condition that makes aspiration likely, it is essential to assess their ability to swallow without aspirating.
Aspiration pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics and close monitoring, usually in a hospital setting. The likelihood of recovery increases with early diagnosis and treatment.