What Does Aspiration Mean?
Aspiration means “to suck or draw up” and it refers to the act of swallowing something solid into your lungs. It’s a common cause of death among children and young adults because they don’t have enough strength to stop themselves from doing so. If not treated immediately, aspiration pneumonia can lead to death within hours if left untreated.
The word aspiration comes from the Latin words apis (fish) + laborare (to push). When someone attempts to swallow something solid, they’re actually pushing air into their throat. This causes them to cough and inhale what’s in their mouth.
They then force the air out through their nose and gagging sounds are made.
When you breathe in, the stomach releases digestive enzymes which break down foods into smaller pieces called nutrients. These small bits of food pass through your esophagus and enter your large intestine where they meet with water and other substances needed for digestion. Your body breaks these materials down further into simpler compounds like sugars and amino acids.
If you eat too much at one time, your stomach may produce gas. This gas pushes against the back of your throat causing you to choke. You might feel sick when you do this.
Other times, however, eating too little food can result in malnutrition and weight loss leading to hunger pangs.
You might experience some discomfort while trying to swallow something solid such as chewing gum or hard candy. This is especially true if you eat large amounts of such food. Your body may not have enough enzymes to break them down.
If you do consume something solid and the windpipe swells or closes up, you can end up choking on it. This puts you at risk for suffocating on your own vomit, too.
If you’ve consumed alcohol or medication such as sleeping pills, these can also cause you to choke if you attempt to swallow something solid.
What are the types of solid foods that you should avoid?
Most hard candies are safe to consume. Take note, however, that some types can get stuck in your throat. Candy such as jawbreakers and lollipops are less likely to get stuck in your throat.
Gum is safe to consume and is unlikely to get stuck in your throat. Take note, however, that chewing might leave your mouth full of saliva. This can lead to choking or drowning.
You may want to wait 15 minutes before attempting to consume other types of foods or liquids after chewing gum.
Hard vegetables such as carrots, celery, and apples can lead to choking. You might also break a tooth or injure your gums if you bite into hard foods with lots of rough edges. Avoid these types of food.
Other types of food that can lead to choking include raw carrots, nuts, peanuts, popcorn (unbuttered), sunflower seeds, and any other nuts or seeds. Hard pieces of meat are safe to consume if cut into small pieces. You should avoid eating large chunks of meat as they can get stuck in your throat.
Can you consume liquids if you have something stuck in your throat?
No, this is a bad idea. You risk swallowing the fluid or liquid instead and this could cause you to drown in your own vomit. If you have something solid stuck in your throat, you should avoid drinking anything until a doctor helps you remove the obstruction.
How can you prevent choking?
If you’ve been advised by your physician to avoid certain foods due to a condition such as asthma or food allergies, it’s important that you stick to his or her recommendations. You should never attempt to eat these types of foods as they can lead to choking or allergic reactions.
If you have dentures, you should check them for cracks, loose fit, or other damage before wearing them. If you do find damage, you should see your dentist right away to have them repaired or replaced. You should never attempt to eat anything hard with damaged dentures as this can lead to choking.
You should chew foods thoroughly before swallowing. Take your time and enjoy the flavors and textures of different types of food. Chances are, you might accidentally swallow a small piece of food.
This isn’t a big deal as your body can easily digest the small amount of food without any issues.
If you get into the habit of taking your time when eating, you’ll be less likely to accidentally swallow a large piece of food or other object. Take special care when eating hard foods such as apples, raw carrots, and nuts. These are more likely to break, crack, or puncture your throat.
If you have children in your care, make sure to keep small objects out of their reach. Peanut butter jars, pens, coins, and magnets are all potential choking hazards for small children. These items can lead to choking or suffocation if inhaled or swallowed accidentally.
Make sure any home appliances with small parts (such as a clothes washer) are completely out of reach of young children. These types of appliances can lead to choking or drowning if a child climbs on top of them or tries to play with them.
It’s also a good idea to keep your cell phone, remote control, or any other objects that can be swallowed by children out of reach. While these objects aren’t likely to choke your child, they can cause physical harm if swallowed.
Return to Emergency Room
If you find yourself choking and unable to breathe, you should immediately get to a doctor or go to the emergency room as soon as possible. Continuing to choke can lead to serious brain injury and death within minutes. If you can’t speak, wave your hands around or bang on something so someone notices you as soon as possible.
If possible, someone should call 911. You want emergency medical help to arrive as soon as possible.
If you find someone else choking and you know the Heimlich Maneuver, you should immediately help that person by doing the following steps:
Stand behind the victim and wrap your arms around them. Tip them forward and clasp your hands together, forming a fist. Place the fist in the abdomen just above their belt line.
Quickly but forcefully squeeze your fist against their abdomen. If a food item breaks free of the windpipe, it should fly up and out of their mouth.
They should begin to cough and spit out the object that’s blocked their airway. It may take several attempts to dislodge the blockage. Monitor the person after each attempt to make sure they are still breathing.
After the blockage is dislodged, keep them from eating anything else and get them to the emergency room as soon as possible.
Other tips to preventing choking include:
Cook food until it’s well done or soft enough that it can be swallowed if it gets into the windpipe.
Cut food into small pieces before putting it in a child’s mouth.
Never tie a napkin around a child’s neck. If they tip their heads back to look at something, the food could fall into their windpipe.
If you or a loved one are experiencing ongoing trouble with choking, talk to your doctor. There are medical procedures that can be performed to alleviate the issue.
Sources & references used in this article:
Does the ProSeal laryngeal mask airway prevent aspiration of regurgitated fluid? by C Keller, J Brimacombe, A Kleinsasser… – Anesthesia & …, 2000 – journals.lww.com
Assessing penetration and aspiration: how do videofluoroscopy and fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing compare? by AM Kelly, MJ Drinnan, P Leslie – The Laryngoscope, 2007 – Wiley Online Library
The role of income aspirations in individual happiness by A Stutzer – Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2004 – Elsevier
Does pulse oximetry reliably detect aspiration in dysphagic stroke patients? by MJ Collins, AMO Bakheit – Stroke, 1997 – Am Heart Assoc
Adventitial cystic disease of the popliteal artery: percutaneous US-guided aspiration. by DD Do, M Braunschweig, I Baumgartner, M Furrer… – Radiology, 1997 – pubs.rsna.org
Silent aspiration: what do we know? by D Ramsey, D Smithard, L Kalra – Dysphagia, 2005 – Springer
How do aspirations matter? by CS Hart – Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 2016 – Taylor & Francis