When discussing a particular pulmonary problem, there are often several components or presentations which need to be discussed with the patient and their family. The issue of aspiration is often seen in my patient population because it is present with increased frequency in an older patient group.
Aspiration occurs when material from the mouth gets dropped into the trachea or main airway opening. The material may have gotten into the back of the mouth several ways and contain several types of contaminants, which are harmful to the lungs.
Patients may aspirate stomach contents that have come up the food tube (esophagus), especially when lying down. This liquid may contain food particles and acid from the stomach. The acid may damage the airways and the lungs. Patients may also aspirate bacteria from the back of the throat. This can lead to an infection called aspiration pneumonia. The aspiration of oil, such as mineral oil or vegetable oil, can lead to an unusual type of pneumonia called a lipoid pneumonia. Lastly, patients can sometime aspirate larger foreign bodies which can, at times, be life threatening.
The risk of aspiration increases with age, but also is associated with GI disorders such as acid reflux. Patients who have had strokes and are left with swallowing dysfunction are also at greater risk for aspiration. Never lie down immediately after a heavy meal. Seek attention if you have problems swallowing, or if you get repeated pneumonias especially in the same lung.