by Diane Norwood, MS, RD, CDE
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. Aspiration pneumonia is an infection that develops after foreign items are accidentally inhaled into the lungs. This is a potentially serious condition that requires care from a doctor.
Only air should enter the airways of the lungs. Sometimes foods, liquids, or vomited stomach contents may accidentally get into these airways. Inhaling can move these substances further into the lungs. This is called aspiration. Once the substances are in the lungs, it will cause an irritation and swelling in the lungs. This creates an opportunity for an infection to develop.
Most people can prevent aspiration by creating a strong cough. However, some people may have impaired coughing ability. This may happen in people who are unconscious, have brain injuries, or have trouble swallowing foods or liquids.
Factors that may increase the chance of aspiration pneumonia:
Symptoms may include:
If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to aspiration pneumonia. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. During the exam, your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope.
Tests may include the following:
Antibiotics are used to treat aspiration pneumonia. It may need to be delivered through an IV in a hospital. In other cases, antibiotics may be taken by mouth.
In severe cases, mechanical ventilation may be needed to help with breathing.
To help reduce the chances of aspiration pneumonia:
American Lung Association
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Aspiration pneumonia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated December 13, 2017. Accessed February 16, 2018.
Aspiration pneumonitis and pneumonia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated March 2017. Accessed February 16, 2018.
Reza Shariatzadeh M, Huang JQ, Marrie TJ. Differences in the features of aspiration pneumonia according to site of acquisition: Community or continuing care facility. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2006;54(2):296-302.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 1/16/2018
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.