What is pulmonary aspiration?

Pulmonary aspiration occurs when a person inhales a foreign substance into the lungs. There are many things that can be accidentally inhaled instead of entering the stomach as expected. The options are food, drink and medicine. However, in some cases, it is mucus that causes this problem, and a person may even aspirate saliva. Unfortunately, pulmonary aspiration is not harmless; It often causes nausea. There may even be a potentially serious infection of the lungs called aspiration pneumonia.

When a person ingests food, liquid, medicine, or some other substance, it usually begins to find its way down the esophagus and into the stomach. Unfortunately, substances that enter the mouth do not always follow the normal route through the digestive system. Sometimes a foreign substance enters the trachea, which instead leads to the lungs.

A person's trachea is located in front of their esophagus. This arrangement makes it easier for foreign substances to enter the lungs than the stomach. Pulmonary aspiration usually occurs when coordinated breathing and swallowing are disrupted or impaired. Under normal circumstances, a person does not breathe while swallowing. However, sometimes the automatic coordination of these events is hampered by something as simple as laughing while eating or drinking.

In addition to laughing at inappropriate times, there are a number of issues that can lead to pulmonary aspiration. These include respiratory disorders, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and defects affecting the neck. A person may also have this problem due to a disorder that affects the nervous system, such as multiple sclerosis. In some cases, medication and surgery can cause or contribute to pulmonary aspiration. Also, people with reduced coughing capacity may be particularly susceptible to pulmonary aspiration due to a medical problem.

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for pulmonary aspiration, but there are steps a person can take to prevent it. For example, a person may avoid talking or laughing while eating or drinking. You can also do tongue exercises and only try to swallow when you keep your head down or lean to one side. Sometimes it can also help to thicken liquids or put small amounts of food in the mouth. If pulmonary aspiration causes pneumonia, doctors usually prescribe antibiotics to treat it.

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