Pneumonia Types Aspiration

Aspiration pneumonia occurs when foreign substances are inadvertently inhaled into the lungs. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, up to 15 percent of community-acquired pneumonia is caused by aspiration. Aspiration pneumonia can occur both in the community and in hospital settings. The fatality rate for hospital-acquired pneumonia from aspiration may be as high as 25 percent.

Aspiration Pneumonia Definition

What is aspiration pneumonia? The respiratory system has defenses that prevent foreign particles from reaching the lungs. The gag reflex and coughing are two such defenses. Ciliary movement in the respiratory tract is another mechanism. This is a wave motion made by hair-like substances in the respiratory system that move tiny foreign particles out of the upper respiratory tract.

These defenses can be impaired or overwhelmed, potentially leading to aspiration. Foreign particles enter the lungs, where they can cause damage. Foreign objects infected with bacterial, viral or fungal organisms can cause lung infections, resulting in pneumonia from aspiration.

Aspiration Pneumonia Causes and Risk Factors

Anyone can develop pneumonia from aspiration, but some circumstances increase the risk of the disease. Some aspiration pneumonia causes are:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Anesthesia
  • Coma
  • Drug overdose
  • Esophageal disease
  • Head injuries
  • Impaired gag reflex
  • Mechanical ventilator intubation
  • Poor dentition (tooth development and arrangement)
  • Poor oral care
  • Sedative use
  • Swallowing problems.

The risk of aspiration pneumonia is higher in the elderly and the very young. Oddly, men are more at risk of pneumonia from aspiration than women.

Aspiration Pneumonia Symptoms

Aspiration pneumonia symptoms are similar to symptoms seen in other types of pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia causes the following symptoms:

  • Blue-tinged skin, due to lack of oxygen
  • Chest pain
  • Cough, possibly with discolored or blood-tinged mucus
  • Fatigue
  • Fevers and chills
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing.

Aspiration Pneumonia Complications

Pneumonia from aspiration can cause serious complications, including death from acute respiratory distress. Other possible aspiration pneumonia complications include:

  • Dangerously low blood pressure
  • Lung abscesses
  • Shock
  • Spread of infection to the blood or other organs.

Treating Pneumonia from Aspiration

Aspiration pneumonia ranges from mild cases of “walking pneumonia” to serious infections that require hospitalization (walking pneumonia refers to cases where the infected person does not require bed rest).

Doctors will prescribe antibiotics to treat aspiration pneumonia if the infection has a bacterial source. People hospitalized with aspiration pneumonia may require oxygen or mechanical ventilation to help them breathe.

If stomach contents are the source of aspiration, medical professionals may recommend acid-reducing medication or medication that helps digest food quicker. When speaking with your doctor, you should address any swallowing problems to avoid further aspiration.

If the substance inhaled into the lungs is solid, a doctor may remove it with bronchoscopy. Solids usually enter the right main bronchus rather than the left, due to the right main bronchus being straighter and shorter. A thin, flexible tube is threaded into the lungs through the mouth in order to locate and remove the foreign substance.

Resources Staff. (n.d.). Aspiration pneumonia. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from the Web site:

Naderi, S., Swaminathan, A. (2009). Pneumonia, aspiration. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from the eMedicine Web site:

U.S. National Library of Medicine Staff. (2009). Aspiration pneumonia. Retrieved March 8, 2010, from the MedlinePlus Web site: