What Are the Symptoms of Aspiration Pneumonia?

Britt Archer

Foreign objects or liquids that enter the lungs can cause a serious inflammatory condition called aspiration pneumonia. Foreign material can be anything from food and drink to vomit or stomach acid. A number of different symptoms of aspiration pneumonia can occur, including chest pain, a bluish tinge to the skin, fever, shortness of breath, wheezing, and cough. The cough may be accompanied by smelly or green-colored sputum, and the cough also may produce blood or pus. A patient exhibiting symptoms of aspiration pneumonia may also have bad breath, may not be able to comfortably swallow and may begin to sweat to an excessive degree.

A doctor may order a chest x-ray for a patient experiencing symptoms of aspiration pneumonia.
A doctor may order a chest x-ray for a patient experiencing symptoms of aspiration pneumonia.

Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia may require a trip to the doctor or a hospital emergency room. Patients who suffer from chest pain, wheezing, shortness of breath, fever, or chills should seek medical attention right away. A doctor will perform an examination, looking for abnormal lung sounds such as crackling, and the exam will also note the patient’s heart rate and oxygen level. A doctor also may order some tests that will determine how well a patient can swallow, plus a chest X-ray, bronchoscopy, sputum and blood cultures, a CT scan and a measurement of arterial blood gas.

Coughing up blood, pus or green-colored sputum may be a sign of aspiration pneumonia.
Coughing up blood, pus or green-colored sputum may be a sign of aspiration pneumonia.

There are different types of aspiration pneumonia. A patient who aspirates stomach acid will have chemical pneumonia. A patient who aspirates bacteria from the throat or mouth areas will develop bacterial pneumonia. The third type, exogenous lipoid pneumonia, is much less common and stems from oil aspiration. Furthermore, non-bacterial pneumonia can develop into bacterial pneumonia.

A patient exhibiting symptoms of aspiration pneumonia may have bad breath.
A patient exhibiting symptoms of aspiration pneumonia may have bad breath.

Not every patient who shows symptoms of aspiration pneumonia will need to be admitted to the hospital. The decision to admit a patient will depend on the individual and the severity of the condition. The patient’s recovery will depend on several factors, including how much damage has been done to the lungs.

Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia may appear without a recognizable precipitating event. Factors that pose a risk of contracting the disease include conditions that may lead to a state of unconsciousness, such as stroke, alcohol and drug use, seizure, and head injury. An increased risk of aspiration pneumonia is present for patients suffering from reflux, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Parkinson’s disease.

Patients who suffer from chest pain, wheezing and shortness of breath should seek medical attention immediately.
Patients who suffer from chest pain, wheezing and shortness of breath should seek medical attention immediately.

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Discussion Comments

anon999057

I have a pegtube in me since Aug. of this year, however I have been eating and drinking water by mouth, and the doctor doesn't seen to be doing anything to help me. What are steps to get off the pegtube?

discographer

The three most common symptoms of pneumonia are apparently flu, coughing and difficulty breathing. If anyone got something in their airways lately (apparently, even some chemical gasses can cause this), and has these three symptoms, it could be pneumonia. If the pneumonia is bacterial, the good news is that it can be easily treated with antibiotics. But it's important to get diagnosed as fast as possible.

burcinc

@bluedolphin-- Well yes. Normally, when water enters the airways, the larynx (the voice box containing the vocal cords) closes off the air tube to prevent water from entering the lungs. The water ends up in the stomach instead. Sometimes though, water gets through into the air tube. Or in the case of drowning for example, there is only so much water that a person can ingest and the rest can enter the lungs. Sometimes this even happens when we're eating or drinking. Even a drop of water into the air tube can cause severe coughing and irritation. It has happened to most of us at least once.

Aspiration pneumonia is actually one complication of getting food, water or other substances in the lungs. This can actually lead to death because the lungs can develop dangerous edema as a result.

bluedolphin

How does someone breathe in saliva, food or vomit into the lungs? Isn't there a valve in the throat or airways that actually prevents this from happening? If there wasn't, we all would be breathing in liquids every time we drink something. So is aspiration pneumonia is a malfunction of this system?

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