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Aspiration precautions are measures taken to prevent a person from aspirating, or choking. Choking can occur in debilitated patients who have a diminished swallowing reflex, and the condition can even cause a type of pneumonia called aspiration pneumonia. Typically, when a person swallows, the contents pass through the esophagus and into the stomach. Aspiration occurs when the swallowed contents do not pass through the esophagus, but go directly into the lungs.
Food aspiration can occur in stroke patients or when patients have been given sedating medications. In addition, when a person is getting his nutrition via a stomach tube, he can aspirate the contents of the liquid feeding, especially if he is lying flat. When someone is at risk for aspiration, he needs to have the head of his bed elevated so that gravity can help prevent this from happening.
When a hospitalized patient is on aspiration precautions, not only must the head of his bed be elevated, he must also be strictly monitored. In these circumstances, the nursing staff needs to periodically check the patient's lung for any abnormal sounds. If the nurse hears crackling sounds or if the patient sounds congested, a physician must be notified right away. If the patient is found to have aspirated, antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent or treat pneumonia.
Sometimes, however, even though precautions have been followed, aspiration may occur. Symptoms of aspiration and aspiration pneumonia include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and sometimes fever. In addition, the patient may have a bluish cast on his nails and on his lips. When this occurs, a medical professional needs to prescribe oxygen. When blueness of the lips and nails is present, it indicates that the patient is not breathing effectively, so oxygen may be necessary.
People who have been heavily sedated or who have consumed excessive amounts of alcohol are also at risk for aspiration. Although aspiration precautions in these individuals may not be comparable to those who are hospitalized, they are important. Sedated and intoxicated people should sleep on their sides, so in the event that vomiting occurs, they will not inhale the stomach contents into their lungs.
When a person is caring for someone who is at risk for choking because of a medical condition, he should call the patient's healthcare provider to learn more about aspiration precautions and how he can monitor the patient for signs and symptoms of pneumonia. Also, if a caregiver does not feel comfortable taking care of the patient in the home, he can ask the healthcare provider if the patient can be admitted to the hospital where a strict precaution regimen can be initiated.