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Aspiration Precautions

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What do I need to know about aspiration precautions?

Aspiration means that foods or fluids get into your airway. This can lead to trouble breathing or lung infections such as pneumonia. Aspiration precautions are practices that help prevent these problems.

What increases my risk for aspiration?

Any condition that causes trouble swallowing may increase your risk for aspiration. Examples include the following:

  • Stroke
  • A neuromuscular disease such as Parkinson's disease
  • Radiation or surgery to the neck or face
  • Head or neck cancer
  • Cigarette smoking or heavy alcohol use

What can I do to prevent aspiration?

  • Eat in a chair or sit upright while you eat. This will help prevent choking. Stay upright for 45 minutes to 1 hour after you eat or drink.
  • Eat small amounts slowly. Do not eat or drink with a straw. Take small bites and chew well before you swallow.
  • Avoid distractions while you eat. Keep the radio and TV turned off during meals. Do not try to talk to others while you eat.
  • Make sure your dentures fit correctly. This will help you chew food into pieces that are easier to swallow.
  • Limit spicy foods and caffeine. These may cause reflux. Reflux is the movement of foods and fluids from your stomach into your esophagus. This could increase the risk that foods or fluids will also move into your airway.
  • Drink water with your meals. Water will help rinse food out of your mouth. This will decrease the risk that food will move into your airway.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can damage your esophagus and cause trouble swallowing. 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.

What do I need to know about nutrition and aspiration?

Your healthcare provider may show you how to thicken liquids or soften foods. Thickened liquids and soft foods are easier to swallow. A registered dietitian can help you plan your meals:

  • Puree your foods as directed. This will help remove chunks or lumps. You can add gravy, sauce, vegetable juice, milk, or half and half to foods before you blend them. Your food should be the same consistency as pudding after you puree it. If your food is too thin after you puree it, thicken it as directed. The following are examples of foods that puree well into a pudding consistency:
    • Cream of wheat with small amounts of milk
    • Moistened breads, pancakes, Danish pastries, or muffins
    • Well-cooked pasta, noodles, or rice
    • Cooked vegetables, tomato sauce, or cooked potatoes without skin
    • Casseroles, eggs, or cooked pureed meats
    • Margarine, sour cream, smooth cheese sauces, or strained gravy
  • Thicken your foods and drinks as directed. Your food and drinks should be thickened to the consistency of pudding. You can add flour, cornstarch, or potato flakes, or thickening products to thicken your foods or drinks. Follow directions on the package when you add thickening products to your food or drinks. Your healthcare provider will give you a complete list of foods and drinks that need to be thickened. The following are examples of foods and drinks that should be thickened:
    • Milk, milkshakes, nutritional shakes, or sherbet
    • Juices without pulp or gelatin
    • Coffee, tea, or soda
    • Alcoholic beverages
  • Keep a food diary. Write down everything you eat. Take the diary to your follow-up visits. This information will help your healthcare provider decide if you are getting enough nutrition.

When should I seek care immediately?

  • You have chest pain.
  • You have shortness of breath.
  • You have signs or symptoms of dehydration, such as increased thirst, dark urine, or little or no urine.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a cough, chills, or a fever.
  • You cough or choke before, during, or after you eat or drink.
  • You feel like you have to clear your throat after you eat or drink.
  • You lose weight without trying.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

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 healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

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