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Aspiration Pneumonia


Aspiration (as-pi-RAY-shun) pneumonia (noo-MOH-nyah) happens when a liquid or an object is inhaled into the lungs. A common cause of aspiration pneumonia is inhaling (aspirating) acid or vomit from the stomach. Having food, drink, or saliva (spit) from your mouth go into your lungs can also cause aspiration pneumonia. When these things go into the lungs, it can damage (hurt) the lungs, or cause a blockage. This damage or blockage may cause swelling and fluid in the lungs. It can also cause an infection (in-FECK-shun) in the lungs, such as bacterial (bak-TEE-ree-al) pneumonia. Treatments may include oxygen, medicines, and treatments to help with swallowing.

Picture of the normal respiratory system



  • Keep a current list of your medicines: Include the amounts, and when, how, and why you take them. Take the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency. Throw away old medicine lists. Use vitamins, herbs, or food supplements only as directed.
  • Take your medicine as directed: Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not working as expected. Tell him about any medicine allergies, and if you want to quit taking or change your medicine.
  • You may need medicines to help you feel better faster, or to prevent your pneumonia from getting worse. These medicines may include one or more of the following:
    • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to fight or prevent an infection caused by bacteria. Always take your antibiotics exactly as ordered by your primary healthcare provider. Do not stop taking your medicine unless directed by your primary healthcare provider. Never save antibiotics or take leftover antibiotics that were given to you for another illness.
    • Cough medicine:
      • You may need a cough medicine to help loosen phlegm in your lungs and make it easier to cough up. This type of cough medicine is called an expectorant. Drink plenty of water if you are taking an expectorant type of cough medicine. Coughing the phlegm out of your lungs can help you breathe easier.
      • A type of cough medicine that decreases your urge to cough is called a cough suppressant. If your cough is producing mucus, do not take a cough suppressant unless your caregiver tells you to. For example, your caregiver may suggest that you take a cough suppressant at night so you can rest.
    • Inhalers and nebulizers: Your caregiver may give you one or more inhalers to help you breathe easier and cough up mucus. An inhaler gives your medicine in a mist form so that you can breathe it into your lungs. This type of medicine may also be given using a nebulizer, or "breathing treatment machine". Using inhalers and nebulizers the right way takes practice. Ask your caregiver for more information about using inhalers and nebulizers correctly.
    • Over-the-counter medicine: Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are the kind that you can buy without an order (prescription) from a caregiver. OTC medicine may be used for many reasons, such as decreasing pain or a high body temperature (fever). These medicines are safe for most people to use and can help you feel better when used correctly. However, they can cause serious problems when they are not used correctly. People using certain other medicines or that have certain medical conditions are at a higher risk for problems. Using too much, or using these medicines for longer than the label says can also cause problems. Follow directions on the label carefully. If you have questions, talk to your caregiver.

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.

Activity and home care:

Your caregiver may suggest some of the following treatments or lifestyle changes to help you get better:

  • Avoid smoke. Do not smoke, and do not allow others to smoke around you. Smoking increases your risk of lung infections and other health problems. Smoking also makes it harder for you to get better after having pneumonia. Talk to your caregiver if you need help quitting smoking. Avoid dusts, smoke from fires, and strong smells (such as chemical fumes).
  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer. Use a cool mist humidifier or a vaporizer to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe, and help decrease your cough. Wash the humidifier each day with soap and warm water to keep it free of germs.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Good nutrition can help your body fight illness. Eat a variety of healthy foods every day. Your diet should include fruits, vegetables, breads and protein (such as meat, fish, and beans). Ask your caregiver if you should decrease your intake of dairy (milk) products while you are coughing up phlegm. Do not drink alcohol while you are sick.
  • Drink enough liquids and get plenty of rest. Be sure to drink enough liquids every day. Most people should drink at least eight (8 ounce) cups of water a day. This helps to keep your air passages moist and better able to get rid of germs and other irritants. You may feel like resting more. Slowly start to do more each day. Rest when you feel it is needed.
  • Avoid the spread of germs. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use germ-killing hand lotion or gel to clean your hands when soap and water is not available. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you wash your hands first. When coughing, cover your mouth with a tissue or your shirtsleeve. Tell others to do the same. Avoid being around sick people whenever possible.

For more information:

Contact the following for more information about aspiration pneumonia:

  • National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
    P.O. Box 5801
    Bethesda , MD 20824
    Phone: 1- 301 - 496-5751
    Phone: 1- 800 - 352-9424
    Web Address:
  • American Lung Association
    1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
    Washington , DC 20004
    Phone: 1- 202 - 785-3355
    Phone: 1- 800 - 548-8252
    Web Address:
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    1600 Clifton Road
    Atlanta , GA 30333
    Phone: 1- 404 - 6393311
    Phone: 1- 800 - 3113435
    Web Address:


  • You have a fever.
  • Your skin is itchy, or you have a rash. Your medicines may be causing these symptoms. This may mean you are allergic (uh-LER-jik) to your medicine.
  • You have any questions or concerns about your pneumonia.
  • Your breathing problems do not go away or they get worse.
  • Your cough does not get better with treatment.
  • You begin to cough up blood.


Call 9-1-1 or 0 (operator) to get to the nearest hospital or clinic if you have any of the following signs:
  • You faint (pass out) or feel like fainting, or you have new problems with thinking clearly.
  • Your lips or fingernails turn dusky or blue.
  • You find it very hard to breathe.
  • You have swelling of your lips, tongue, or throat that makes it hard to breathe or swallow.

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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.