What is Aspiration Pneumonia? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment 

Aspiration Pneumonia is a lung infection that occurs when relatively large amount of material such as (food, saliva, liquids or vomit) from the stomach or mouth, enter into the lungs. Other foreign materials could also enter into the lungs by inhalation or aspiration of materials either from the stomach or externally into the oesophagus. This condition is largely involuntary and the aspiration or inhalation of these materials could also introduce bacteria into the lungs.

When bacteria that can affect the lungs are introduced, your healthy lungs will try to clear them out by itself, but if it doesn’t, pneumonia can develop as a complication. Many people who have aspiration pneumonia also have other diseases that affect swallowing. This may slow down recovery and result in a longer recovery period. Your recovery may also be dependent on how much of the lung has been affected, the severity of the pneumonia, the type of causative bacteria, and any underlying medical condition that compromises the immune system or one’s ability to swallow.

What are the Symptoms of Aspiration Pneumonia?

Common symptoms of aspiration pneumonia include:

  • Chest pain.
  • Fatigue.
  • Fever.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Wheezing.
  • Breath odour.
  • Coughing up of phlegm (sputum) that has a pungently foul-smell and contains pus or blood.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Bluish skin around the mouth or fingertips.
  • Trouble swallowing.
  • Loss of appetite or weight.


Pneumonia can occur when the immune system is compromised or impaired and the aspirated contents have a large dose of harmful bacteria. These bacteria may go on and infect the lungs because of the weakened immune system. Aspiration pneumonia is also caused by a defective swallowing mechanism often due to a neurological disease or as the result of an injury that directly affects swallowing or interferes with consciousness.

The possibility of bacteria to cause aspiration pneumonia, depends on:

  • The health of the individual.
  • History of antibiotics use.
  • Weakening of the immune system.

Aspiration pneumonia can also occur if food or drink goes down the wrong way during swallowing. This is not necessarily a consequence of an irregular gas reflux and whether or not the individual swallows normally before occurrence.

Risk Factors

There is an increased risk for people older than 75, living in nursing homes or long-term care centres. This could be attributed to disease conditions associated with aging.

The following factors increase risks:

How it is Diagnosed

A physician diagnosing aspiration pneumonia will look out for signs of pneumonia during physical examination. These signs, which includes decreased airflow, rapid heart rate and crackling sound in the lung could help determine if there is pneumonia or not. Lung biopsy could also be used in the diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia, caused by aspiration of food particles.

Laboratory examinations may include:

  • Chest x-ray.
  • Sputum culture.
  • Bronchoscopy.
  • Full Blood Count (FBC).
  • Computed tomography (CT) Scan of the chest area.
  • Blood culture.
  • Arterial blood gas.

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment is typically with antibiotics, targeted at destroying the bacteria. For those with only chemical pneumonitis, antibiotics may not be required. People with an irregular gas reflux and having trouble swallowing may need to stop taking food by mouth. Supportive care such as supplemental oxygen, steroids to reduce lung swelling or help from breathing machine may be employed for cases where aspiration pneumonia leads to breathing problem.

Oxygen may be given through a tube mask placed over the nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in the nostrils for patients with low blood oxygen level. It is important to note that if aspiration pneumonia is left untreated, it could become serious.

Here are some of the ways by which you can prevent aspiration pneumonia :

  • Avoid behaviours that may lead to aspiration of materials such as excessive drinking.
  • Take care when taking medications that may cause drowsiness and loss of motor controls.


  • Alkhawaja, Sana; Martin, Claudio; Butler, Ronald J.; Gwadry-Sridhar, Femida (2015-08-04). “Post-pyloric versus gastric tube feeding for preventing pneumonia and improving nutritional outcomes in critically ill adults”. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (8): CD008875. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008875.pub2
  • DiBardino, DM;Wunderink, RG (February 2015). “Aspiration pneumonia: a review of modern trends”. Journal of critical care. 30 (1): 40–8.
  • Aspiration Pneumonia: Overview, Causes, and Symptoms – Healthline
  • Aspiration Pneumonitis and Pneumonia: Overview of Aspiration
  • Aspiration Pneumonia and Chemical Pneumonitis – Lung and Airway …

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