by Diane Norwood, MS, RD, CDE
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.
Only air should enter the airways of the lungs. Sometimes foods, liquids, or vomited stomach contents may accidentally get into these airways. Inhaling can move these substances further into the lungs. This is called aspiration. Once the substances are in the lungs, it will cause an irritation and 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 TOP
Factors that may increase your chance of getting aspiration pneumonia include:
Symptoms may include:
If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to aspiration pneumonia. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. During the exam, your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope.
Tests may include the following:
Your doctor may also need to take pictures of your lungs. This is done with a chest x-ray. You may also be asked to use a barium swallow during your x-ray. This will help demonstrate swallowing problems.
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.
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 chance of getting aspiration pneumonia, take these steps:
American Lung Association
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Aspiration pneumonia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated February 12, 2013. Accessed April 2, 2013.
Marik PE. Aspiration pneumonitis and aspiration pneumonia. N Engl J Med. 2001;344(9):665-671.
Reza Shariatzadeh M, Huang JQ, Marrie TJ. Differences in the Features of Aspiration Pneumonia According to Site of Acquisition: Community or Continuing Care Facility. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2006;54(2):296-302.
Last reviewed February 2013 by Brian Randall, MD
Last Updated: 4/2/2013