During most people’s lifetime, we will all experience a mild form of aspiration while eating or drinking. You may have experienced this as “something going down the wrong tube.” This is a simple but accurate depiction of what aspiration is. Your mouth is connected to two tubes—one named the esophagus that allows food and water to get to your stomach and another called a trachea to allow air into your lungs. These two tubes are separated by a muscle called the epiglottis. This muscle covers the trachea when eating so that food or water cannot reach the lungs. Sometimes this muscle may not do its job as efficiently as we would like and food particles and/or water can slip by and get into “the wrong tube.”
If you have experienced this, you may remember your first instinct is to start coughing. This will, in most cases, get the food or water out of the trachea. But when does aspiration become a problem? If you have aspirated a large food item, it can obstruct your trachea. The stuck food blocks air from reaching your lungs, leading to choking. If the food item stays stuck and oxygen cannot get to your lungs, you will also not get enough oxygen to your organs. This lack of oxygen can quickly lead to brain injury or even death.
Many health conditions can put people at an increased risk of aspiration. This includes people that have decreased levels of consciousness or less control over their ability to swallow, such as people that are intoxicated or overdosing on drugs, have had a previous stroke, suffer from gastroesophageal reflux, are pregnant or have conditions with special needs like Down Syndrome. These are just some of the many risk factors. If you think you might be at risk for aspiration, speak to your primary care physician.
There are some easy steps you can take to help prevent aspiration. One way is to control the bite sizes of your food when you eat. The smaller each bite of food is, the easier it is to ensure it gets into your stomach and not your lungs. Also, make sure while you are eating there are no distractions. Talking while eating is a very common way to get food or water where it shouldn’t be. You can also follow each bite of food with water to help direct the food down the esophagus to your stomach.
No matter how vigilant you are, the risk of choking will remain. Our easy-to-use first aid device can unblock a person’s airway quickly in an unexpected emergency, when time is critical. Appropriate for adults and children age 12 or older, the Dechoker for adults can help you be prepared and offer you peace of mind.
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