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Article - May 5th, 2022

According to the Oxford Language Dictionary, there are two definitions for aspiration. One: aspiration is a feeling of hope or a strong desire that something good is about to come (Oxford, 2022). Two: aspiration is the action of drawing breath (Oxford, 2022). In the nursing community, the definition of aspiration has a deeper meaning. When a patient is aspiring, it means they swallowed something and the foreign object entered the airway instead of the esophagus (Blair, 2020).

Choking is not the same as aspiration (Blair, 2020). Choking is when the airway is completely blocked and the person can no longer breathe (Blair, 2020). Aspiration is a partial blockage (Blair, 2020). It's easy to accidentally inhale food. Imagine someone hearing a funny joke while trying to chew and then inhaling to laugh. A random hiccup can also cause food items to go down the wrong tube.

According to WebMD, over 15 million Americans have dysphagia (Blair, 2020). Patients with dysphagia have trouble swallowing (Blair, 2020). Stroke victims or people with developmental disabilities often struggle with dysphagia (Blair, 2020). It's not just during meal times that patients could suffer from an aspiration. Patients with acid reflux, throat cancer, medication reactions, or feeding tubes are just a few examples of how patients could begin to aspire (Blair, 2020).

How to Help Prevent Aspiration

Only eat when awake and alert (Vann, 2013). Eating while tired will increase the risk of aspiration. Other helpful hints include:

Cutting meals into bite-sized portions (Vann, 2013).

Eat more foods with moisture, and avoid dry or sticky foods (Vann, 2013).

Don’t eat laying down (Vann, 2013).

Aspiration is a serious issue, it is common to see the nursing staff check each other to make sure they are sitting up ALL of their patients for mealtimes. Unless the patient has health requirements that don’t allow them to sit, they’re all generally in some sort of upright position to eat. Maintaining a good posture while eating is important and keeping that posture long after a meal is important too (Vann, 2013). According to Everyday Health, people should remain upright for at least 2-3 hours after eating a big meal to keep from aspirating, developing heart burn, and keep food from going back up the esophagus (Vann, 2013).

Hearing a patient aspirate is something unforgettable. When a person aspirates, they sometimes make a loud shriek that fills the room with a ghost-like chill. The person gasping for air sounds like they are breathing to gain every ounce of life they can squeeze through a tiny painful airway.


Blair, W. (2020). What is Aspiration? WebMD.

Vann, M. (2013). The Best Moves to Aid Digestion. Everyday Health.

Oxford Language Dictionary (2022). Aspiration.

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