Aspiration occurs by inhalation of solid or liquid or fumes into the respiratory tract. These contents may be any food, liquid or some secretions of the mouth. Inhalation of these contents can lead to aspiration pneumonia. It causes inflammation of the lungs and bronchial tubes. Aspiration pneumonia is a secondary type of pneumonia.
This disease mostly affects people who are not in their consciousness due to sedatives, seizures, anesthesia drug intoxication, old age, neuromuscular disorders, head injury and dental problems. It is caused due to poor swallowing reflex in an individual which may occur in some neurological disease.
As age increases the swallowing reflex slows down and hence the risk increases with older people. Also people with respiratory problems like asthma or emphysema are at risk. Patients are advised long periods of bed rest; alcoholics are more prone to aspiration pneumonia.
The symptoms are coughing, fever or chills, tiredness, difficulty in breathing, noisy breathing, chest pain, skin, lips or nails appearing blue, increase in heart rate, difficulty in swallowing. Other symptoms may include vomiting, nausea, weight loss and headache. These signs may start off slowly but can worsen fast. Complications that could occur are the spreading of infection to the blood stream or other parts of the body, low blood pressure, lung abscess etc.
Diagnosis may be done with the help of an x-ray, an ultrasound, and laboratory tests, testing of swallowing reflex, sputum cultures and relevant blood tests.
Treatment differs based on the severity of the attack i.e. what was inhaled and the amount that was inhaled. In the initial stages a mild antibiotic is adequate. Sometimes special antibiotics are given depending on where the treatment is undertaken and the organisms present in the mouth. Some individuals may have difficulty in swallowing in which case treatment for that is done separately. The damage to the lungs is directly proportional to the acidity level of the swallowed material. Deep breathing helps and bed rest is advised.
Care should be taken during all surgeries relating ear, nose, and throat to prevent any contents entering.