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Aspiration Pneumonia

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Aspiration Pneumonia


Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. Aspiration pneumonia is an infection that happens after foreign items are accidentally inhaled into the lungs. This is a serious health problem that needs care right away.

Food Inhaled Into the Lungs.

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Only air should enter the airways of the lungs. Sometimes foods, liquids, or vomited stomach contents may accidentally get into these airways and inhaled into the lungs. This is called aspiration. It results in irritation and swelling in the lungs. This makes it possible for an infection to develop.

Risk Factors

Most people can cough to prevent aspiration, but people with certain health problems may not be able to do so. Things that may raise the risk of aspiration pneumonia are:


Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia may be:

  • Increased cough
  • Increased sputum
  • Fever
  • Lack of energy
  • Chest pain
  • A change in mental status
  • Problems breathing
  • Weight loss


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may be done to look for signs of infection. This may include:

  • Blood tests
  • A sputum test

Pictures may be taken of the lungs. This can be done with a chest x-ray. The ability to swallow may also be tested. This can be done with a barium swallow.


Emergency care may be needed. Antibiotics will be given to treat the infection. It may be given through an IV or by mouth.

Some people with severe symptoms may need mechanical ventilation to help with breathing.


The risk of this problem may be lowered by:

  • Managing chronic health problems
  • Following fasting instructions before a surgery




  • Aspiration pneumonia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/aspiration-pneumonia.
  • Aspiration pneumonitis and pneumonia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/pneumonia/aspiration-pneumonitis-and-pneumonia.


  • David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated:

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.