Aspiration Precautions

Aspiration Precautions One Should Know

Aspiration precautions are important to know when treating patients whose condition places them at a high risk of aspiration. The lay person does generally not need to be highly knowledgeable in this area, beyond knowing what to do when someone suddenly gets food stuck in their windpipe and is at risk of choking to death.

Any one of us can swallow food incorrectly at one time or another, an act which can be quite frightening if our breathing becomes impaired. For most of us, the main precaution we need to take is to chew our food well and eat slowly.

The Need For Precautions And Protocols - Not every one is capable of eating normally or without assistance, and the risk of aspiration to these people is greater. Aspiration is defined as inhaling food, saliva, or any substance that does not belong in the trachea or the lungs. In some instances, contents in the stomach may be refluxed back into the esophagus and from there into the air passages. Those who care for patients who are at risk of this happening need to be aware of the protocols to follow should an incident happen and intervention becomes necessary.

Aspiration precautions need to be taken when treating or caring for those with epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or a history of aspiration pneumonia. These individuals sometimes do not have complete control over the muscles they use to swallow foods or liquids, and are at a higher risk of aspirating food or liquids.

In hospitals, patients who suffer drowsiness from medications, or from anesthesia, are at some risk as the muscles controlling swallowing may be overly relaxed. Normally in hospitals the protocol is to never give a patient food or drink under such conditions, or to monitor the situation closely if medications or liquids are given. Those treating patients who require assistance to be fed, have to be especially careful and know what aspiration precautions to take, as those being fed by others very often will not swallow correctly.

Another area in which aspiration precautions often have to be in place is when caring for those with developmental disabilities. People with certain developmental disabilities are at higher risk of suffering from one or more of what are known as the fatal four health risks, these being aspiration, constipation, dehydration, and epileptic seizures.

Keeping The Torso Upright Or Elevated - Other situations which place a person at a high risk of aspiration is if a person is unable to sit upright while eating or drinking. You will note that it is a rare situation indeed to see a patient in a hospital lying flat on his or her back. The upper part of the body is almost always elevated, even if ever so slightly, and is generally elevated more when the person is eating or being given fluids or medication. This is one reason why doctors will advise patients who have GERD or acid reflux disease to sleep with the head of the bed in an elevated position. That advice is not only given to help the patient sleep more comfortably, but more importantly is an aspiration precaution, designed to prevent a situation in which the contents of the stomach might be refluxed into the airways while the person is asleep.


Medical personnel, especially nurses, are trained in all aspects of aspiration precautions and protocols, and caregivers, including family members who are caring for a person having a condition where aspiration is a definite possibility, should be as well. While a primary and highly noticeable instance of aspiration can be choking, foreign material inhaled into the lungs can be much less noticeable but more insidious and dangerous than one often suspects.