I have been asked many times by parents to define aspiration in reference to GERD and how to prevent it. Aspiration occurs in 10-20% of patients with GERD and is the inhalation of stomach contents into the respiratory symptoms.
The lumen of the right main broncus of the lung is most likely to be where aspirated contents wind up because it is slightly wider than the left side.
Some people who aspirate will have no consequences and will cough any foreign material out on their own. Others can wind up with infections that range from mild to life threatening pneumonias. When the stomach contents are highly acidic, as it can be in poorly treated acid reflux, there can be immediate trauma to the tissues exposed.
Symptoms of aspiration include: Coughing, choking, wheezing, rapid breathing and bad breath. Should it progress to aspiration pneumonia the symptoms can include: difficulty breathing, fever, chest pain, worsening cough, chest congestion, rapid heart rate, excessive fatigue and sometimes confusion. If you have acid reflux and experience any of these symptoms it is important to contact your physician for further evaluation.
Preventing aspiration involves adequately treating conditions like GERD. Patients can benefit from proper medications to control the acid, medications to increase stomach emptying as indicated, proper dietary intake, maintenance of a healthy weight and positioning techniques to limit acid reflux.
In some individuals it is not possible to prevent this complication and those patients need to be even more diligent in monitoring for these dangerous symptoms.
Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and graduate work in public health nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.