Aspiration Pneumonia: Everything You Need to Know

Aspiration pneumonia is a type of pneumonia that might occur if a person breathes something in instead of swallowing it. The germs from food particles, saliva, vomit, or other substances may infect the airways and lead to aspiration pneumonia.

In this article, you’ll learn about the causes and risk factors of aspiration pneumonia, as well as how doctors diagnose the condition.

We also cover treatment and complications, including whether a person can die from the infection.

What is Aspiration Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection caused by germs getting into the lungs and airways. Aspiration pneumonia occurs when these germs get into the lungs because a person accidentally breathes something in instead of swallowing it.

Healthy lungs can usually handle the bacteria from these accidents and get rid of as much of it as possible by causing a person to cough.

People who have trouble coughing, those who are already ill, or those who have compromised immune systems are more prone to aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia is most common in older individuals and younger children but can affect anyone.

Can you die from aspiration pneumonia?

It is possible to die from aspiration pneumonia. So doctors will address the condition as soon as possible. Doctors will give special consideration to each person’s treatment to ensure they receive the correct antibiotic.

Life-threatening complications might occur if the person has gone too long without treatment or has a compromised immune system.

Causes and risk factors

Aspiration pneumonia often occurs if a person has a compromised immune system and inhales an object containing a lot of germs.

In many cases, the person will cough automatically, which will expel these unwanted particles and prevent aspiration pneumonia from developing.

People who have an impaired ability to cough may be more at risk of developing an infection from inhaling something, particularly if the object was large or was a source of infectious germs.

Other risk factors for aspiration pneumonia include:

  • esophageal disorders or dysfunction.
  • Using muscle relaxers, sedatives, or anesthesia
  • Using or abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Dental problems
  • Problems with the nerves (neurological disorders)
  • Strep throat 
  • Cancer
  • stroke
  • seizure
  • A heart attack
  • coma
  • Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn
  • Disorders that impair the mental state, such as dementia,

The types of germs infecting the lungs or large airways may also change depending on many factors, but they are usually Streptococcus pneumonia, Staphylococcus aureus, or gram-negative infectious bacteria.


Aspiration pneumonia can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • wheezing
  • slightly blue skin
  • High fever
  • sweating

Anyone with these symptoms should contact their doctor immediately for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Signs such as colored phlegm and high fever in children or older adults justify a trip to urgent care.


Doctors will work to diagnose and treat aspiration pneumonia as fast as possible. Doctors will typically ask about symptoms and then do a physical exam to check for signs of pneumonia.

Signs could include a crackling noise in the lungs while the person is breathing or a person is having difficulty breathing.

X-rays or computed tomography (CT) scans can provide images of the lungs. Doctors may also use a bronchoscope to look at the airways and check for any blockages.

A sputum culture test, complete blood count (CBC), or arterial blood gas test can help gauge how severe the infection is and what type of treatment is required.


Treatment for aspiration pneumonia will vary greatly depending on the person’s overall health and the severity of their symptoms.

Common antibiotics are commonly used to help clear out infections and avoid serious complications. Doctors may need to wait until test results come back to determine which antibiotic to prescribe, as some bacteria are resistant to certain antibiotics.

Some people may need to be hospitalized and monitored. If a person is having difficulty breathing, they may need to use a breathing machine.

If the person is having difficulty swallowing, doctors may recommend an assisted feeding method or a change in eating habits to avoid further aspiration.


Aspiration pneumonia can cause severe complications, especially if a person waits too long to go to the doctor. The infection may progress quickly and spread to other areas of the body. It may also spread to the bloodstream, which is especially dangerous.

Pockets or abscesses may form in the lungs. In some cases, pneumonia can cause shock or respiratory failure.

Diseases that affect swallowing or cause further inflammation may make aspiration pneumonia worse or prevent it from healing properly. Some severe infections may result in long-term damage and scarring in the lungs and major airways.


Although aspiration pneumonia cannot always be avoided, various lifestyle modifications can assist to lower the risk.

Excessive alcohol consumption or the use of illegal drugs increases the risk of aspiration pneumonia because a person may be too inebriated to swallow properly.

Prescription drugs that alter the muscles or make a person drowsy can also make a person more susceptible to aspiration pneumonia.

If you think your food is going down the wrong pipe while taking prescription medications, talk to your doctor about reducing the dosage or switching prescriptions to avoid breathing in foreign particles.

Other tips to help prevent aspiration pneumonia include:

  • Practice good dental and oral hygiene by
  • not smoking
  • sitting up while eating and chewing slowly and deliberately.


The prognosis for persons who have aspiration pneumonia is determined by a number of key aspects, including how quickly they went to the doctor with their symptoms, how far they progressed, and their overall health prior to contracting pneumonia.

The type of object breathed, as well as the bacterial infection strain, may have an impact on a person’s recovery.

Aspiration pneumonia looks to be more serious than regular pneumonia. According to one study, people with aspirational pneumonia were far more likely to check into a hospital, stay in intensive care, or die from the illness, according to another.

Despite the fact that the majority of people survive aspiration pneumonia, full recovery can take a long period.

Doctors will carefully monitor older individuals or those with compromised immune systems to avoid life-threatening complications. It is essential to follow a doctor’s treatment plan to give the body the best chance of recovery.

Unless otherwise directed by a doctor, always complete a full course of antibiotic treatment, even if symptoms go away early on in the treatment. Aspiration pneumonia may also be prevented by lifestyle changes such as improving oral hygiene and quitting drugs or alcohol.

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