What Happens When Food Goes Down the Wrong Pipe?

When food goes down the wrong pipe, it is often because a person’s mouth and throat muscles malfunctioned momentarily and sent food into the trachea, according to the Huffington Post. The body usually responds immediately by coughing and gagging to clear the obstruction from the person’s airways.

There are instances when coughing can further lodge a piece of food into the trachea, obstructing the airways and creating a choking hazard, notes the Huffington Post. Regardless of whether or not a person chokes, it is possible for food particles to travel into the lungs, where they remain and pose a risk for developing pneumonia. This happens more commonly with liquids than with solid foods.

People may mistake a general feeling of discomfort for having food in their tracheas, but the sensation may simply be caused by large chunks of food slowly traveling down the esophagus. It is obvious when food or liquids enter the wrong pipe, because they make breathing and speaking extremely difficult. The body has a fail-safe method to close the voice box once something has entered the trachea, to prevent further entrances from occurring.

The best way to avoid sending food down the wrong pipe is to remain very focused on chewing. People with weak throat muscles should consult with a doctor about the best way to eat.