Filling the lungs with fluids, also referred to as aspiration is a risky and possible event for anybody. Chronic or acute conditions of certain kinds are one of the leading reasons why aspiration occurs. Inhaled fluids can be in form of particles of solid food, liquids like saliva or the contents of the gastric system such as vomit. It is imperative that aspiration precautions are taken so as to avert fatalities and other effects of fluids in the airways.
Swallowing evaluations should always be carried out in cases where the probability of aspiration is high. They are meant to assess the risk of aspiration, check whether there are difficulties in swallowing and the safest type of foods for the patient to consume. When there is a risk for particles passing through the airway, then precautions are taken.
Tube feeding is one of the biggest risks for fluids entering into the lungs. Tubes are used to feed patients who have conditions such as spinal cord injury, altered consciousness, muscle weakness or post surgery complications. Tubes increase the risk of gastric fluids entering into the airways. Therefore, while tube feeding; caregivers need to ensure that patients are upright and that the tube is off when not in use. The residual from the tube should also be checked regularly.
Mouth feeding is not very different from tube feeding as the person is to be in upright position too. This is possible by sitting on a chair or even on a bed and should be maintained after feeding for up to half an hour long. Similarly, for both feeding modes, food should be consumed with ease and slowly. A 30 to 45 degree of elevation of the head on the bed should be ensured unless contraindicated.
Aspiration may also result if a patient is not fully conscious or if the level of consciousness is minimal. This is as a result of illness or medication which causes drowsy side effects. As a result, frequent monitoring of the level of consciousness is done for critical patients. Lastly, administering of any foods or liquid should be only to patients who are fully alert.
General anesthesia during surgery may also cause intake of fluids into the lungs. Sedatives should therefore be used only when necessary to keep the patient awake as much as possible. In addition, surgery should be performed on an open stomach as the risk is lower. This is the reason why most doctors ask their patients to avoid food for a certain number of hours before undergoing an operation. Sedation is also the cause of lowered cough and gag reflexes.
Cough reflexes remove potentially harmful particles of fluid or food from the throat. Hence, depression of cough or gag reflexes is a risk factor for aspiration. Consequently, any problems coughing should be treated with immediate effect. In addition, if already present they should be noticed during a swallowing evaluation.
There is a four times higher risk for pneumonia in patients who have fluids in the lungs. In addition, it could lead to lung infection indicated by presence of pus. Moreover, death may result if solid particles are aspirated. However, taking the necessary precautions ensure that these risks are lower.
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Author: Jocelyn DavidsonThis author has published 349 articles so far.