Aspiration is the word used to refer to food or liquid entering the lungs during swallowing. As we work foods around our mouth and swallow them, our muscles work as a sophisticated system, ensuring that food travels safely from our mouth through our oesophagus, while completely bypassing our airway. During each swallow, our airway closes off to prevent foods or liquid from entering. When the system does not properly function, food or liquid may enter into the airway, or even falls into the lungs (aspiration).
What causes aspiration?
Aspiration is a common result of feeding and swallowing complications and can be caused by a variety of conditions, including swallowing dysfunction, neurological disorders, structural abnormalities, and gastro-oesophageal reflux (GOR / GORD).
How do I know if my child is aspirating?
The following signs may indicate that your child is aspirating:
- Coughing or gagging during feeding
- Hoarse, wheezy or bubbly vocal sound around or after feeds
- Reoccurring pneumonia or respiratory infections
- Difficulty gaining weight
- Refusal to eat food or liquids
- Poor coordination of breathing during feeding
How can I help treat my child’s condition?
Treatment for feeding and swallowing disorders are often addressed by a speech-language therapist or an occupational therapist. If you have any concerns about your child’s feeding skills, it is best to seek professional assistance immediately.
Treatment may include dietary changes, medical intervention (e.g. medicine for reflux), and direct feeding therapy. Feeding therapy will often address improving the strength and coordination of muscle movements needed for safe and efficient feeding. Feeding therapy might also address seating and positioning to optimize feeding skills, modifying food textures and liquid thickness to allow for safe swallowing, and increase the tolerance of various foods and textures.
Feeding tubes can be used to provide nutrition while a baby is recovering from weight-loss.