Types of Aspiration: Symptoms and Signs to Look Out For

Posted on15 Feb 2021

Types of Aspiration

Aspiration is a condition when a person accidentally inhales an object or liquid into their windpipe. This often leads to coughing, discomfort and choking. In serious situations when the body is unable to expel the foreign object from the lungs, pneumonia may occur. In many cases of dysphagia patients, aspiration is always a risk especially in older adults.

There are two types of aspiration – overt and silent. While both conditions involve food travelling into the windpipe, they show different symptoms.

Overt Aspiration

Overt aspiration can usually be detected by sudden and visible symptoms such as coughing, throat clearing and wheezing. In some patients with dysphagia, their bodies may expel the foreign objects due to their ability to feel discomfort and a stronger cough reflex.

Silent Aspiration

On the other hand, the symptoms of silent aspiration are less apparent, and people tend to be unaware that foreign objects have entered their windpipe or lungs. This is common among people with impaired senses who may have limited ability to sense discomfort during aspiration.

Caregivers should look out for signs such as sudden hoarseness, drooling, changes in breathing patterns, gurgling sounds during and/or after meals.

If you suspect aspiration has occurred during meal times, consider modifying the food or fluid consistencies for safety reasons. For example, you may serve softer foods, cut them into smaller pieces, or blend them. Likewise, beverages can be thickened or drank with a spoon. Patients should also be seated upright during meals and ensure that food has been swallowed completely before taking the next bite or drinking.

It is recommended to consult a certified speech therapist for further evaluation and advice if you suspect that you or your loved ones are displaying signs of aspiration during meals.

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