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aspiration pneumonia

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Lungs and bronchial tree

Aspiration pneumonia is a lung infection that occurs when a person accidentally inhales material from the nose, throat, or stomach.

What is going on in the body?
In a person with aspiration pneumonia, substances from the stomach, throat, or nose enter the airway and lungs. The lung tissue and the aspirated material is a breeding ground for infection. Pneumonia, which is a lung infection, may form in one or both lungs. The infection most commonly develops in the lower part of the lungs.

What are the signs and symptoms of the infection?
Symptoms may include one or more of the following: What are the causes and risks of the infection?
Aspiration pneumonia is more likely in a person who is: What can be done to prevent the infection?
Diligent care by doctors is critical in helping to prevent aspiration pneumonia. The airway must always be open and stable in people with altered mental status or abnormal swallowing. Feeding and breathing tubes should be checked for proper functioning. Avoiding alcohol intoxication will help to prevent aspiration pneumonia.

How is the infection diagnosed?
Tests used to diagnose aspiration pneumonia include: The results of these tests help the doctor select the best treatment.

What are the long-term effects of the infection?
Life-threatening illness may result from aspiration pneumonia, including:
  • atelectasis, which is a collapsed or poorly inflated lung
  • a lung abscess, or pus-filled cavity
  • respiratory failure
  • sepsis or blood infection
  • pleuritis, or an infection in the membranes surrounding the lungs
What are the risks to others?
Aspiration pneumonia is not a direct risk to family members or health care professionals. However, the person may develop a more serious infection if the condition is not effectively treated. This more serious infection may be highly contagious.

What are the treatments for the infection?
Oxygen therapy and antibiotic medications are the standard treatments. Antibiotics are given through a vein. A ventilator, or artificial breathing machine, may be needed to keep an open airway and provide oxygen. The trachea may need suctioning to clear secretions and aspirated particles out of the airway.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
Antibiotics may cause stomach upset, diarrhoea, and in some cases, an allergic reaction. Occasionally, the antibiotic may not cure the lung infection. Sometimes a ventilator actually increases a person's risk for aspiration pneumonia.

What happens after treatment for the infection?
Antibiotic treatment will be given for several weeks. Special breathing treatments may be continued after discharge from the hospital.

How is the infection monitored?
A chest x-ray is the best way to tell whether the aspiration pneumonia is clearing and responding to medication. A sputum culture and blood tests may be repeated during a checkup. Any new or recurring symptoms should be reported to the doctor.

Author: Lanita Dawson, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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