Nursing Home Justice Blog

Know the Signs of Aspiration Pneumonia in Nursing Home Patients

Written By:

Attorney Mac Hester

Date Posted:

March 9, 2023

Pneumonia refers to either a viral or bacterial infection of the lungs. And while there are several types of pneumonia someone can encounter, if you or a loved one are in a nursing care facility, you should familiarize yourself with one particular form of the infection, aspiration pneumonia.

What Is Aspiration Pneumonia?

Aspiration pneumonia is caused by inhaling saliva, food, liquid, vomit, and sometimes small objects. It can be treated with medication, but complications can be severe, even fatal, when left untreated. Unfortunately, aspiration pneumonia is almost always preventable and disproportionately affects the elderly and those in nursing homes.

How Does Aspiration Pneumonia Happen?

It’s common to inhale food and drinks. People experience this when they say something “went down the wrong pipe.” Technically, you’re saying the food or liquid you ingested went to your lungs rather than your stomach. When this happens to most healthy people, a slight cough can dispel the item without lasting harm.

When aspiration happens to someone who can’t swallow well or cough enough to remove the substance, pneumonia may develop. As you can imagine, the ill and those in nursing homes are at greater risk because they are more likely to:

  • Become bedridden
  • Require a feeding tube
  • Have difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • Become immune compromised
  • Be prescribed sedatives
  • Be reliant on nursing staff for feeding

The Symptoms of Aspiration Pneumonia

The signs of aspiration start fast, often one to two hours after inhaling something you shouldn’t. From there, it may take a day or two for pneumonia to develop. The indicators of aspiration pneumonia may include any of the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up, greenish phlegm (sputum) that contains pus or blood
  • Fatigue
  • Fever/Chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Foul breath odor
  • Excessive sweating
  • Problems swallowing
  • Confusion

Diagnosing Aspiration Pneumonia

Individuals suffering from aspiration pneumonia will routinely experience severe coughing episodes and difficulty breathing. A healthcare professional should then use a stethoscope to listen for crackles or unusual sounds in your chest. If aspiration pneumonia is suspected, a doctor should conduct the following test to confirm the condition:

  • Arterial blood gas
  • Blood culture
  • Bronchoscopy (viewing the lung airways)
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • X-rays or CT scans of the chest
  • Sputum culture
  • Swallowing tests

Aspiration Pneumonia Prognosis & Treatment

In most situations, patients with aspiration pneumonia will be prescribed antibiotics. However, treatment will depend on the illness’s severity and the patient’s overall health before the infection. Some patients will require hospitalization and a ventilator to aid in their breathing.

In severe cases, aspiration pneumonia can result in death when a patient is left untreated.

Aspiration Pneumonia Resulting from Nursing Home Neglect

Tragically, many residents of nursing homes and other care facilities experience aspiration pneumonia and the painful complications accompanying an infection. One of the chief causes of this is patient neglect.

When staff members are not trained to properly feed and care for those in their charge or facilities go understaffed, all manner of needless suffering can result. Some common instances of nursing home neglect leading to aspiration pneumonia include:

  • Feeding tubes were not correctly inserted or maintained
  • Food or drinks were not appropriately given to a patient with issues swallowing
  • A patient was not adequately supervised while eating or drinking
  • Inappropriate food or beverages were given to a patient
  • A resident was not properly monitored
  • Medications were not administered correctly

To make matters worse, negligent nursing home facilities and staff tend to overlook the signs of aspiration pneumonia. When these infections go ignored and timely treatment is not provided, the results can be deadly.

Contact Nursing Home Justice for Help

Nursing homes must care for their residents. When they fail to honor this duty and your loved one suffers, you may have cause to pursue legal action.

If you suspect nursing home neglect caused or exasperated your loved one’s aspiration pneumonia, consider speaking with an experienced lawyer about your rights and options.

Nursing Home Justice is a private law firm dedicated to fighting for the elderly and disabled who have been abused or neglected in nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, assisted living facilities, memory care facilities, and group homes. Contact us online or call (303) 775-8128  for a free, no-risk evaluation.

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