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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. You can also aspirate food or liquid from your stomach that backs up into your esophagus. 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.

The Lungs


Seek care immediately if:

  • You have chest pain.
  • You are confused or cannot think clearly.
  • You have more trouble breathing or your breathing seems faster than normal.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • Your symptoms are not better after 2 or 3 days of treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


You may need any of the following:

  • Antibiotics treat pneumonia caused by bacteria.
  • Steroids may help to open your air passages so you can breathe easier. Do not stop taking this medicine without asking your healthcare provider. Stopping on your own can cause problems.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her 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 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 or manage aspiration pneumonia:

  • Go to speech therapy as directed. A speech therapist can teach you exercises to strengthen the muscles you use to swallow.
  • Sit up while you eat. 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 soft foods and drink thickened liquids. A dietitian can teach you how to thicken your liquids so you have less trouble swallowing. Drink liquids through a straw or sip them from a spoon. Ask your dietitian what kinds of foods you should eat. He or she may suggest soft foods such as cooked cereal, pasta, well-cooked fruits and vegetables, and scrambled eggs. Your dietitian may also suggest moist, tender meats that are cut into small pieces.
  • 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.
  • Limit or avoid taking sedatives. These medicines increase the risk of aspiration because they dry out your mouth and make you drowsy. If possible, avoid taking antihistamine medicines because they also make your mouth dry.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

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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.

Further information

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