What is Aspiration Pneumonia, and How to Prevent It? 2022
Aspiration pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by aspirated stomach contents. Aspiration pneumonia is a condition that can develop after surgery or an injury. It occurs when fluids or food from your stomach or intestines enter your lungs. When these juices, liquids, and other gastric contents are inhaled into the lungs, they become aspirated. An ideal diet can help prevent aspiration pneumonia by reducing the chances of fluids entering your lungs.
Some foods are more likely to cause it than others, but mostly because they make it easier for fluids to enter your lungs if you’re unable to swallow correctly after surgery or some other trauma that impairs swallowing. To reduce the risk of aspiration pneumonia after surgery, take the time before and after surgery to heal optimally and recover as quickly as possible from any type of traumatic event that may compromise your ability to swallow properly again soon after surgery.
What Causes Aspiration Pneumonia?
Aspiration pneumonitis is a complication of pneumonia caused by the aspiration of gastric contents into the lung. It develops in patients who cannot protect themselves from swallowing foreign objects such as liquids, semi-liquids, or solids. Food travels from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach in normal swallowing.
During swallowing, the muscles at the base of the tongue and at the back of the throat contract, causing the food to press against the back of the throat, blocking the pathway to the lungs.
The risk of aspirating food and liquids increases with impaired consciousness or swallowing reflexes and decreased oral motor strength, e.g., after stroke, head injury, brain tumor, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, drug use (especially benzodiazepines), alcoholism, cerebral palsy, developmental disabilities, dementia or paralysis from any cause.
Risk Factors of Aspiration Pneumonia
Age: The risk of aspiration pneumonia increases with age, especially after age 65.
Diseases and Disorders: People who have difficulty swallowing due to diseases such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or stroke are at an increased risk of aspirating food or liquids. The risk is also increased in people with a compromised immune system, people who are morbidly obese, and people who are under general anesthesia.
Diet: Some types of food can be more dangerous than others when it comes to aspiration. These include foods that are high in fiber, large amounts of liquids, and foods that are difficult to chew.
Medications: Certain medications may increase the risk of aspiration, including drugs that cause drowsiness, muscle weakness, or interfere with normal muscle function, as well as drugs that affect the nerves that control swallowing.
Diagnosis of Aspiration Pneumonia
The diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia is made with clinical evaluation and chest x-ray. A patient with chronic cough, shortness of breath, fever or weight loss should be investigated for aspiration pneumonia. If a person aspirates, they may have pneumonia. Therefore, a doctor may order tests to differentiate between aspiration pneumonia and aspiration pneumonitis.
The most common test used to differentiate the two is a test called an aspirate. An aspirate is a procedure where the doctor uses a needle to take a sample of fluid from the lungs (aspiration). The fluid will be analyzed to determine if bacteria are present. Some of the tests that may be recommended include
Blood tests: Blood tests can provide useful information about your overall health.
Chest X-ray: This is a standard test that can show the presence of pneumonia and other lung abnormalities.
CT scan: This type of X-ray provides more detailed images of the chest’s lungs, bones, and soft tissues.
Upper endoscopy: A procedure that allows your doctor to look inside your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum.
Swallowing evaluation: This test can help your doctor determine whether you have any swallowing problems or if your swallowing function has become impaired. If bacteria are found, the patient likely has aspiration pneumonitis. If no bacteria are found, then the patient likely has aspiration pneumonia.
Treatment for Aspiration Pneumonia
Treatment for aspiration pneumonia depends on the severity of the infection. In some cases, antibiotics alone may be sufficient to treat the condition. If a person aspirates food into their lungs, the person may need to be fed through a tube inserted in the stomach. If a person aspirates fluid into their lungs, they might need to be treated in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with assisted ventilation.
Bottom Line: Symptoms of Aspiration Pneumonia
Aspiration pneumonia is a serious medical condition that occurs when something enters the lungs (usually stomach juices or bacteria) and triggers an immune response. Aspiration pneumonia is usually caused by drinking or eating while lying down, which reduces the natural pressure in your throat and makes it easier for food or liquid to enter your lungs.
Food travels from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach in normal swallowing. During swallowing, the muscles at the base of the tongue and at the back of the throat contract, causing the food to press against the back of the throat, blocking the pathway to the lungs.