What is Inhalation Pneumonia?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 09 December 2019
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Inhalation pneumonia is a lung condition that occurs when a liquid or solid substance is accidentally breathed into the airways. Foreign substances such as regurgitated stomach contents, saliva, foods, and drinks can irritate and inflame the lungs, and possibly introduce serious bacterial infections. The severity of symptoms depends on how much of the material was inhaled, but most people experience chronic coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and fatigue. Mild cases can usually be treated with oral antibiotics. Patients who develop severe, persistent symptoms may need to receive oxygen therapy and intravenous antibiotics in a hospital.

Most people who experience this condition are incapacitated at the time the foreign substance is inhaled. A person may be having a seizure or stroke, or be under general anesthesia for a surgical procedure. Individuals who consume too much alcohol or are under the influence of sedative drugs may also choke on mouth fluids or vomit and inhale some into their lungs. Occasionally, foods or liquids find their way to the lungs of people with poor gag reflexes or chronic throat problems. Having gastrointestinal reflux disease increases the chances of contracting this type of pneumonia as well.


Inhaling stomach acids in vomit causes a chemical inflammatory response in the lungs. Likewise, saliva and other mouth contents harbor bacteria, which can lead to infected abscesses in lung tissue if inhalation occurs. Both types of inhalation pneumonia can cause a person to cough painfully and have trouble taking normal breaths. An individual may wheeze, feel very fatigued, and develop a fever. If bacteria are present, his or her breath may have a foul odor and coughing may produce green, bloody phlegm. It is important to visit a doctor or emergency room at the first possible sign of this condition to learn about treatment options.

A doctor can confirm whether inhalation pneumonia is responsible for the patient's symptoms by listening to the lungs, checking oxygen levels in the blood, and taking imaging scans of the chest. He or she looks for signs of bacterial abscesses and inflammation to gauge the seriousness of the disorder. If tests are inconclusive, a fiber optic camera called a bronchoscope may be fed through the mouth into the lungs so the doctor can see internal tissue.

Many people who contract this kind of pneumonia are able to get better in a few days with rest and proper fluid intake. Bacterial infections tend to respond well to a two-week course of oral antibiotics. A patient who has serious breathing difficulties may need to be hospitalized and given oxygen therapy. With prompt care, even severe cases of pneumonia are usually curable.


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Post 3

I had a friend who was not only my closest friend. She was also my mentor, and she helped me in so many areas of my professional and personal lives. I don't like to think how different my life would have been had she not been about of it. She was like an older sister, an aunt and a mother to me. When I learned she had Alzheimer's I was devastated.

There are many symptoms that are so difficult to watch with the disease. Most people are familiar with how Alzheimer's patients forget names and faces of the people closest to them. Of course, this is difficult to see, but one of the toughest things to watch was her aspiration pneumonia. One of her caregivers said it was like her body had forgotten how to eat. She simply could not get her food to go down the way it was meant to.

Post 2

I was confused because I had heard the term aspiration pneumonia many times before, but I only recently came across the term inhalation pneumonia. After reading this article I see they are the same condition or virtually the same condition.

Post 1

Who hasn't been eating or drinking something and had it "go down the wrong pipe"? I'm assuming this is not likely to cause a problem since I have done it way too many times to count. Until reading this article, I didn't know this could cause such a problem, and I didn't know what inhalation pneumonia was. However, I can understand how vomit could lead to serious problems if you breathed it into the wind pipe.

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