What To Do If Someone Aspirates

What To Do If Someone Aspirates

If someone aspirates, it means that foreign material, such as food or fluids, enters their airway and lungs instead of going down the esophagus into the stomach. This can be a serious situation that requires prompt attention. Here are the steps to take if someone aspirates:

Coughing and Choking

Sudden onset of coughing or choking could be indicative of aspiration—when a foreign object enters the airway instead of the digestive tract. If the person is coughing forcefully, encourage them to continue coughing to try to clear the airway on their own. Do not interfere with their coughing. If the person is unable to cough or is struggling to breathe, you'll need to intervene.

Breathing Difficulties

If the person is having difficulty breathing, or you hear a wheezing sound, aspiration may have occurred.

If the person is conscious and able to speak, encourage them to cough forcefully to try to expel the foreign object.

Back Blows and Abdominal Thrusts

For adults, back blows and abdominal thrusts can be used. For smaller children, different methods may be appropriate. If the person becomes unresponsive, you may need to perform a combination of back blows and chest thrusts similar to the technique used for choking. Alternate between these until the foreign material is expelled or until professional medical help arrives.

Medical Evaluation: X-Rays and Exams

Immediate Medical Care

Seek immediate medical attention, especially if the aspirated object is not expelled or if symptoms persist. Even if you are able to clear the airway and the person starts breathing on their own, seek professional medical help to evaluate and treat any potential complications.

Diagnostic Tests

Healthcare providers may recommend X-rays, bronchoscopies, or other tests to locate the aspirated object.

Medical Interventions


In more severe cases, a bronchoscopy may be performed to remove the aspirated object.


Infections can develop following aspiration, so antibiotics may be administered as a preventative measure.

Observation for Respiratory Issues

Even after the object has been removed, close monitoring is required to identify any subsequent respiratory issues like pneumonia.

Follow-Up Care

Regular medical check-ups may be required to ensure there are no lingering complications from the aspiration event.

Prevention Strategies

Chewing and Swallowing

Practicing safe chewing and swallowing techniques can reduce the risk of aspiration, particularly for individuals with swallowing difficulties.

Environment Safety

Keeping small objects out of reach of children or individuals with cognitive impairments can prevent accidental aspiration.

First Aid Training

Training in basic first aid techniques can prepare you to handle situations involving aspiration and other medical emergencies.

Review Safety Measures

Frequently revisiting and updating safety guidelines for those at risk can help prevent future incidents.

Documentation Aspects

Medical Records

It's essential to maintain a record of the incident and medical treatment, especially if complications arise later.

Insurance Matters

Documentation is often required when filing insurance claims related to medical care for aspiration incidents.

Prevention and Education

Being educated about the risk factors and prevention strategies for aspiration can help you and those around you stay safer.

Aspiration events can be alarming and potentially life-threatening. Remember, if you're unsure about what to do or if the person's condition worsens, do not hesitate to call for professional medical assistance. Recognizing the signs, knowing the immediate actions to take, and understanding when to seek professional medical assistance are critical steps in dealing with such an emergency effectively.


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