The Dangers of Aspiration and What Causes It

Written by Brian Wallace

Aspiration is a medical term used to describe the inhalation of foreign material into the lungs. This can lead to serious health problems and even death. Aspiration can occur in people of any age, but it is most commonly seen in elderly adults, people with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, individuals with neurological conditions, and those who have difficulty swallowing due to diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

Aspiration can occur for several reasons, but the most common cause is dysphagia, which is difficulty swallowing. Dysphagia occurs when the muscles and nerves in the throat and esophagus are not working correctly. This can be due to muscle weakness or damage to the nerves that control the muscles. Dysphagia can also be caused by certain medical conditions such as stroke, dementia, or Parkinson’s disease.

Aspiration and Dysphagia

When a person has dysphagia, they may struggle to swallow food or liquids properly. This can result in food or liquid entering the lungs instead of the stomach. When this happens, it can lead to serious health problems, including pneumonia, lung abscesses, and even death. Aspiration pneumonia is a common condition observed in people who have breathed in anything other than air.

Aspiration can be caused by gastric contents from the stomach entering into the lungs. This can happen in people who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or who have undergone surgery that affects the stomach or esophagus.

Other Causes of Aspiration

Other causes of aspiration include lung disease, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which can cause a chronic cough that can dislodge food or liquid from the throat. Additionally, alcohol and drug use can relax the muscles that control swallowing, making it easier for food or liquid to enter the lungs.

Aspiration can also occur during anesthesia. When a person is under anesthesia, they may have difficulty swallowing, which can lead to aspiration. This is why doctors and anesthesiologists are careful to monitor patients closely during and after a medical procedure.

Symptoms of Aspiration

Symptoms of aspiration can vary depending on the extent of the damage to the lungs and the substance that was inhaled. Common symptoms include coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, and fever. In severe cases, aspiration can lead to respiratory failure, which can be fatal.

Preventing Aspiration

Preventing aspiration is crucial for people who are at risk. For individuals with dysphagia, doctors may recommend a special diet consisting of softer foods that are easier to swallow, such as mildly – or moderately-thick liquids, or speech therapy to help improve their swallowing muscles. Eating and drinking should be avoided when lying down, and care should be taken not to eat or drink too quickly. Regular dental check-ups and oral hygiene can also reduce the risk of aspiration pneumonia caused by dental abscesses.

For people with GERD, medication can help reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, which can decrease the risk of aspiration. Those who have a history of alcohol or drug abuse should seek help to manage their addiction and increase their ability to swallow normally.

If you or someone you know is at risk for aspiration, seek medical attention and work with a healthcare professional to manage the condition and prevent future complications.