Aspiration pneumonia is caused by inhalation of foreign materials into the lungs. Usually, food, stomach contents, saliva, and nasal secretions are found to cause this condition. When such materials enter the lungs accidentally, they may cause blockage or damage of the bronchioles. In such situations, the affected site may develop swelling and drainage. In some cases, the affected site may also be attacked by pathogens, like bacteria. This aggravates the condition.
Normally, people aspirate or inhale small amounts of oral or gastric contents; but the defense mechanism of the body takes care of it. Inhalation of foreign materials in large amounts may lead to aspiration pneumonia, with or without lung abscesses. This condition may also develop in people with an impaired pulmonary defense.
The condition is characterized by inflammation of the bronchioles. The alveoli in the region fill with fluid, as an immune system reaction. If the aspirated material is acidic in nature, chemical inflammation may happen. It has been observed that aspiration pneumonia is often linked to the right, middle, and lower parts of the lungs. Those who aspirate in an upright position, develop problems mainly in the lower parts of the lungs. The position is often dependent on gravity.
In most cases, foreign materials are aspired into the lungs involuntarily, or due to impaired swallowing mechanism. Involuntary inhalation is often seen in people with altered consciousness, like those under anesthesia, or those in an intoxicated condition. Even use of certain drugs, and being in an unconscious state, can lead to such involuntary aspiration. Old age and childhood are also linked to this condition.
In case of newborns or infants, prolonged labor or large amounts of amniotic fluid may cause aspiration pneumonia. In such cases, the symptoms include inability to suck breast milk and fever. People with dental problems and esophagus disorders are also prone to this condition. Even medical conditions, like stroke, Parkinson's disease, head injury, seizures, multiple sclerosis, etc., may cause aspiration pneumonia.
It has been noted that the symptoms as well as the severity of the condition are based on the nature of material inhaled and its volume. If the patient has aspirated a foreign material in large amounts, severe respiratory problems may develop within one or two hours. In most cases, the symptoms develop at a very slow pace, but are found to worsen quickly.
- The most common symptom of aspiration pneumonia is frequent cough. Such cough may also produce phlegm with pus or tinges of blood. The phlegm can be foul-smelling and frothy too.
- The affected person may also experience breathing trouble, as well as an increased heart rate during rest. Apart from that, he/she may have wheezing and chest pain during cough or breathing.
- Other symptoms include bad breath, dizziness, confusion, fever, chills, and nervousness. The person may sweat a lot and may even faint.
- The affected person may have trouble swallowing and bluish skin coloration.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.