What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Aspiration?

Signs and symptoms of aspiration include coughing after swallowing foods, rapid and slow breathing, gurgling sounds from the lungs, and coughing up yellow, tan or green phlegm, according to Baylor Scott & White Health. Changes in the voice, such as hoarseness; fever; and a bluish tint in skin color are also signs.

Aspiration is a medical term referring to sucking fluids or small solid particles into the trachea or lungs, according to About.com. It is different than the term “choking” because the airway is not completely blocked. Aspiration can lead to a condition known as aspiration pneumonia and lung infections.

Causes of aspiration include a decreased level of awareness due to a brain injury, stroke, neurological disease or seizure. Other causes include the inability to cough, narrowing of the esophagus and acid reflux, as well as any surgery for which a person receives sedatives or anesthesia, claims Baylor Scott & White Health. Excessive alcohol consumption and feeding tubes are additional causes of aspiration.

Doctors diagnose aspiration using a chest X-ray, a bronchoscopy or a swallowing evaluation study, according to Baylor Scott & White Health. Maintaining head elevation at a 30- to 45-degree angle unless otherwise contraindicated and using sedatives sparingly reduce the risk of aspiration, according to the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.