By Patricia Raymond, Michelle Beaver

Aspiration pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs and bronchial tubes. It results from inhaling vomit, food, or liquid. While this can happen to anyone, people with acid reflux are at a heightened risk for developing it. This is because reflux makes it possible for the stomach’s contents to make it up the esophagus, through the larynx, between the vocal cords, and into the lungs.

Aspiration pneumonia is actually a very common form of pneumonia, accounting for approximately 15 percent of all pneumonia cases. It’s more commonly found in men, young children, and the elderly, or those who are weakened by health issues.

A variety of symptoms are associated with aspiration pneumonia. The most common symptoms are

  • Bluish tint of the skin

  • Chest pain

  • Coughing

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Gurgling

  • Shortness of breath

  • Wheezing

Talk with your physician immediately if you notice any of these symptoms. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention for this condition. That attention can have a real impact on the effectiveness of the treatment and your likelihood for recovery.

When caught quickly, aspiration pneumonia usually won’t lead to further complications. Still, several other factors influence the effectiveness of treatment, including what percentage of your lungs has been affected, the severity of the pneumonia, as well as the type of bacteria that caused the infection.

Treatment usually starts with a round of antibiotics. The specific type of antibiotics that’ll be effective depends on the type of bacteria causing the infection, and this can be difficult for doctors to identify. In some cases, depending on the severity of the infection and symptoms, patients may require hospitalization. Doctors continue antibiotic treatment and attempt to alleviate any other symptoms.

Without treatment, the consequences can be devastating. Two common complications are associated with aspiration pneumonia:

  • Lung abscess: A lung abscess is a pus-filled cavity in the lungs that causes severe pain and difficulty breathing.

  • Acute respiratory failure: Acute respiratory failure occurs when fluid builds in the air sacs in your lungs. When that happens, your lungs can’t release oxygen into your blood. In turn, the organs can’t get enough oxygen-rich blood.

Be sure to speak with your physician immediately or go to urgent care or the nearest emergency room if you start showing symptoms of aspiration pneumonia.