Aspiration Pneumonia, Dangerous If Ignored

Aspiration pneumonia is an infection of the lungs due to the entry of foreign objects into the respiratory tract. Aspiration pneumonia needs to get proper treatment, because if it is ignored, serious complications can occur which can lead to death.

Under normal circumstances, the body has two mechanisms to avoid the entry of foreign objects into the respiratory tract. First, by closing the respiratory tract when swallowing, and the second, by reflex coughing up foreign objects that accidentally enter the respiratory tract.

Both of these mechanisms are part of the body's natural defenses. However, under certain conditions, this mechanism can be disrupted so that foreign bodies enter the airways and cause aspiration pneumonia.

Foreign objects that may enter the lungs include liquid or small food, saliva, stomach acid, and food from the stomach that goes up into the esophagus. All of these fluids may contain bacteria that can infect the lungs.

Causes of Aspiration Pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia occurs when the two defense mechanisms mentioned above are impaired or do not function properly. There are several conditions that can cause this to happen, including:

  • Weakness of the swallowing muscles due to certain diseases, such as a stroke or stroke mysthenia gravis
  • Decreased consciousness, for example due to excessive alcohol consumption or seizures
  • There is a blockage in the esophagus that causes food to not enter the stomach, for example in esophageal cancer
  • Weak immune system, for example in diabetes or heart failure

In addition, GERD, vomiting, dental and oral problems, use of a ventilator, and radiation therapy to the head and neck area can also increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia.

Symptoms of Aspiration Pneumonia

Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia can appear as soon as a foreign body enters the lungs or several days later. Symptoms that can appear are:

  • Cough with phlegm or no phlegm
  • Chest pain when coughing or breathing
  • Shortness of breath, until the skin is pale or bluish due to lack of oxygen
  • Fever

Other non-specific symptoms include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and excessive sweating. In the elderly and people whose immune system is weak, the body temperature can even be lower than normal. In addition, loss of consciousness such as delirium can also occur.

Aspiration Pneumonia Diagnosis

If you are choking on a liquid and then feel the above symptoms, see a doctor immediately. Provide a complete history of choking and your complaints so that the doctor can direct the diagnosis correctly.

The doctor will also perform a thorough physical examination, especially in the lungs. After that, the doctor may suggest additional examinations, such as X-rays or chest CT scans, complete blood counts, or bronchoscopy, to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment of Aspiration Pneumonia

If you are diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia, your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics to treat the infection. You should take it regularly until it runs out, as recommended by your doctor. Meanwhile, to overcome the inflammation, the doctor will give corticosteroid drugs.

In severe conditions, such as those that cause oxygen deprivation or loss of consciousness, patients with aspiration pneumonia need to be hospitalized and sometimes require a ventilator to help breathe.

No less important, the cause of aspiration pneumonia must also be addressed. If it is caused by a blockage or weakness of the swallowing muscles, for example, the patient can be given a feeding tube to reduce the chance of choking. If it is caused by GERD, the patient will need to be given medication to relieve stomach acid.

Aspiration pneumonia can cause serious complications, such as lung abscess and bronchiectasis. To reduce the risk of developing aspiration pneumonia, it is recommended that you avoid eating in a sleeping position and take medication if you have an illness or medical condition that can cause this condition.

If you have a cough that causes chest pain and shortness of breath after choking on food or drink, you may have aspiration pneumonia. Immediately consult a doctor to get the right treatment.