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Aspiration Pneumonia


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.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


If you continue to aspirate, you could have long-term inflammation of your lungs. This can cause you to get aspiration pneumonia again and again. Your lungs may slowly fail to pump enough oxygen into your blood. You could develop a blood infection called sepsis, or a lung abscess. This means part of your lung tissue begins to die. Any of the risks of aspiration pneumonia can be life-threatening.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


  • Vital signs: Caregivers will check your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature. They will also ask about your pain. These vital signs give caregivers information about your current health.

  • Pulse oximeter: A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. A cord with a clip or sticky strip is placed on your finger, ear, or toe. The other end of the cord is hooked to a machine. Never turn the pulse oximeter or alarm off. An alarm will sound if your oxygen level is low or cannot be read.

  • Neuro exam: Your healthcare provider will ask you questions to test your memory and level of alertness. He will check how your pupils react to light. He will ask you to grasp his hand. He may test your balance. These tests can help him find out if pneumonia or something else is affecting your brain and nervous system.


  • Antibiotics: These are given to treat pneumonia caused by bacteria. You may be given pills or antibiotics through your IV.

  • 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.

  • You may need extra oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

  • Other medicines: You may be given medicines to relieve your symptoms and make you more comfortable. Examples are medicines to help you breathe or to thin the mucus in your lungs.


You may need more than one of the following:

  • Bedside swallow or barium swallow: Your healthcare provider will watch you swallow different foods and liquids. You may be asked to drink a thick liquid called barium while healthcare providers take x-rays of your throat, esophagus, and lungs. These tests will show if you have long-term swallowing problems.

  • Blood tests: Your blood may be tested to find out if your white blood cell count is high. This can be a sign of infection.

  • Chest x-ray: Healthcare providers use x-rays to look for signs of infection, such as swelling and fluid in your lungs.

  • CT scan: This is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your chest to check for lung damage or an infection. You may be given dye before the CT scan so your healthcare provider can see the pictures better. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to x-ray dye.


  • Swallowing therapy: A speech-language pathologist can teach you exercises to strengthen the muscles you use to swallow. A dietitian, nurse, occupational therapist, or physical therapist may teach you what to eat and how to swallow safely.

  • Nasogastric (NG) tube or PEG tube: An NG tube is a flexible tube placed in your nose to feed you or put medicine into your stomach. It will be removed if you are able to swallow normally again. If your swallowing does not get better, you may need a PEG tube. This is a soft, plastic tube that is put into your stomach through your skin. You may need a PEG tube until you can swallow food and water again, or you may always need it.

  • NPPV or ventilator: You may need treatments to help you breathe. NPPV is a machine that helps your lungs fill with air using a mask or a mouthpiece. You may receive extra oxygen through the machine. A ventilator is a machine that gives you oxygen and breathes for you when you cannot breathe well on your own. An endotracheal (ET) tube is put into your airway through your mouth or nose. You may need a trach if an ET tube cannot be placed. A trach is an airway tube put into an incision in the front of your neck. The ET tube or trach is attached to the ventilator.

  • Surgery: Rarely, surgery is used to correct swallowing problems.

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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.