WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Aspiration pneumonia is a lung infection that develops after you aspirate (inhale) food, liquid, or vomit into your lungs. If you are not able to cough up the aspirated material, bacteria can grow in your lungs and cause an infection. Your risk is highest if you are older than 75 or live in a nursing home or long-term care center. You may be less active, bedridden, or not able to swallow or cough well. The muscles that help you swallow can become weakened by age, illness, or disease. Your risk also increases if you have a weak immune system.
AFTER YOU LEAVE:
- Antibiotics: These are given to treat pneumonia caused by bacteria.
- Steroids: Steroid medicine may help to open your air passages so you can breathe easier. Do not stop taking this medicine without your caregiver's OK. Stopping on your own can cause problems.
- Take your medicine as directed. Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.
Follow up with your primary healthcare provider as directed:
You may need another chest x-ray in 6 to 8 weeks. Follow up with your speech-language pathologist, dietitian, or occupational therapist as directed. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your follow-up visits.
Prevent aspiration pneumonia:
- Sit up while you eat: Never eat while you are lying flat on your back. If you are bedridden, keep the head of your bed slightly up (at about a 30° to 45° angle) while you eat. Take small bites, eat slowly, and swallow with your chin down.
- Eat thickened foods and drinks: A dietitian can teach you how to thicken your food so you have less trouble swallowing. Instead of a cup, drink liquids through a straw or sip them from a spoon.
- Care for your teeth and mouth: Mouth care can help kill harmful bacteria in your mouth so you do not aspirate them. While you are sitting up, brush your teeth for 2 minutes daily after breakfast and again after dinner. Also brush your tongue. If you do not have teeth, gently brush your gums with a soft toothbrush. Dentures should be removed and cleaned with an electric toothbrush and water after breakfast and dinner. Soak dentures overnight in a cleaning solution. Visit a dentist regularly to have your teeth and gums cleaned.
- Avoid or use fewer sedative medicines: These medicines increase the risk of aspiration because they dry out your mouth and make you drowsy. Use fewer antihistamine medicines because they also make your mouth dry.
- Do not smoke: Smoking increases your risk for aspiration pneumonia.
Contact your primary healthcare provider if:
- You have a fever.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
- Your symptoms are not better after 2 or 3 days of treatment.
Seek care immediately or call 911 if:
- You aspirate or you see a person aspirate.
- You are confused or cannot think clearly.
- You have chest pain.
- You have more trouble breathing or your breathing seems faster than normal.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.