- What are the consequences of food going down the wrong pipe?
- Why does it happen?
- What are the symptoms?
- What should you do if it happens to you?
- What are the risks?
- How can you prevent it from happening?
- What are the treatments?
- What are the long-term effects?
- What are the possible complications?
- When should you see a doctor?
When you eat, the food goes down your esophagus and into your stomach. But sometimes, the food doesn’t go where it’s supposed to. It can end up in your windpipe or your lungs.
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What are the consequences of food going down the wrong pipe?
When food or water goes down the wrong pipe, it is called aspiration. Aspiration occurs when liquids, food, or vomit are brought up from the stomach and then breathed in (inhaled). This often happens when you are eating or drinking too quickly, or if you are laughing or coughing while eating or drinking. Aspiration can also occur if you have a condition that causes problems with swallowing.
Swallowing is a complex process that involves coordinating the muscles of the mouth, tongue, and throat. When you swallow, the muscles of your mouth and tongue push the food towards your throat. At the same time, a small flap of tissue called the epiglottis closes off your windpipe (trachea), so that the food goes down your esophagus instead of your trachea. The esophagus is a tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach.
If aspiration occurs, it can cause choking. Choking occurs when the airway is blocked so that air cannot flow into the lungs. When this happens, oxygen cannot get to the brain and serious health problems can occur. If aspirated material is acidic (such as stomach contents), it can also cause damage to the lungs.
If you think someone is choking, it is important to call 911 immediately and begin CPR if they are not able to breathe on their own.
Why does it happen?
When you swallow, the tongue and muscles in your throat push the food down your esophagus and into your stomach. The esophagus is a tube that goes from your mouth to your stomach. Sometimes when you eat or drink, the food or liquid can go down the wrong way. This is called aspiration. When liquids go down the wrong way, they can enter your lungs and cause pneumonia. Pneumonia is a serious infection of the lungs.
What are the symptoms?
It is not uncommon to have food or liquid go down “the wrong pipe,” meaning your trachea (windpipe) instead of your esophagus. When this happens, you may start coughing and gases or liquids may come up. This situation is usually not serious and will often clear up on its own. However, if it continues, it could lead to pneumonia or other serious health problems.
What should you do if it happens to you?
If you’ve ever choked on your food, you know that it can be a scary experience. But what exactly happens when food goes down the wrong pipe? And what should you do if it happens to you?
When you swallow, your brain tells your muscles to coordinatedly contract in order to push the food down your throat and into your esophagus. Your esophagus is a tube that connects your throat to your stomach, and it’s lined with muscle that contracts in waves to push the food along. There’s a valve at the end of your esophagus that opens to let the food enter your stomach and then closes again so that food can’t come back up.
Sometimes, though, instead of going down your esophagus and into your stomach, the chunk of food (or liquid) goes down your trachea, or windpipe. Your trachea is a tube that goes from your throat to your lungs, and it’s not lined with muscle like your esophagus is. That means that once something goes down there, it can be hard to get it back up.
If you’re choking on your food, the first thing you should do is try to cough it up. If you can’t cough it up or if coughing doesn’t help, then someone else will need to help you. They can do this by performing the Heimlich maneuver on you. The Heimlich maneuver involves putting your hands around the person’s waist from behind and then thrusting them upwards and inwards against their diaphragm. This sudden thrust will often dislodge the chunk of food so that it can be coughed up.
If no one is around to help you or if the Heimlich maneuver doesn’t work, then you can try to dislodge the food yourself by leaning over a hard surface (like a countertop) and pressing upwards with quick thrusts until the food pops out.
In rare cases, choking can be fatal if the airway is completely blocked and no oxygen is able to get through. That’s why it’s important to act quickly if you or someone else is choking!
What are the risks?
When you eat or drink, food and liquids normally go down the esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach) and into your stomach. Occasionally, however, they “go down the wrong pipe” and enter your trachea (windpipe). This happens more often to young children, who have narrower esophagi and are more likely to aspirate (inhale) food or liquids.
The good news is that usually when food or liquid goes down the wrong pipe, it doesn’t stay there. The trachea has a series of small flap-like valves (called epiglottis) that open to let air in and close to keep food out. When you swallow, these valves open so air can enter the trachea. Then they close again so food can enter the esophagus. In most cases, when you aspirate food or liquid, these valves close quickly enough to keep it from going into your lungs.
However, if aspiration occurs frequently or if it aspirates large pieces of food or liquids, it can lead to problems such as:
How can you prevent it from happening?
When you eat or drink, your esophagus carries the food or liquid to your stomach. Muscles in your esophagus push the food down. Sometimes, these muscles don’t work properly. This can cause food or liquids to come back up.
What are the treatments?
When food goes down the wrong pipe, it can cause a condition called aspiration pneumonia. This is a serious lung infection that can occur when liquids, food, or vomit are brought up from the stomach and then breathed in (inhaled). Aspiration pneumonia is a serious condition that can be life-threatening.
Treatment for aspiration pneumonia often requires hospitalization. Treatment usually includes antibiotics to fight the infection and supportive care, such as oxygen therapy and breathing treatments. You may also need to be fed through a tube if you are unable to eat on your own.
What are the long-term effects?
When you eat or drink, the food or liquid travels down your esophagus and into your stomach. However, sometimes the food or liquid can go down the wrong way and end up in your lungs. This is called aspiration.
If you aspirate food or liquids, it can cause:
Aspiration can also cause long-term effects, such as:
-scarring of the lungs
What are the possible complications?
What are the possible complications?
If you have food stuck in your esophagus, it can be very uncomfortable. In some cases, it can cause serious health problems.
Complications from food sticking in your esophagus include:
-Esophageal obstruction: This happens when the food is lodged in your esophagus and you can’t get it out. Esophageal obstruction is a medical emergency.
-Esophageal perforation: This happens when theFood lodges in your esophagus and tears a hole in the tissue. Esophageal perforation is a medical emergency.
-Esophageal stricture: This happens when the food irritating the esophagus results in scar tissue that narrows the esophagus. Esophageal stricture can make it difficult to swallow without seeking medical attention.
-Pneumonia: This happens when liquids from your stomach splash into your lungs while you’re trying to get rid of the food stuck in your throat. Pneumonia is a serious complication that can be life-threatening.
When should you see a doctor?
If you have trouble swallowing, or if you often cough while eating or drinking, you may have a condition called dysphagia. When dysphagia is mild, it may cause you to choke on your food or to cough when drinking liquids. While this can be annoying, it usually is not a cause for concern. However, when dysphagia is more severe, it can cause problems such as weight loss and pneumonia.
If you have dysphagia, food or liquids may accidentally go down the wrong pipe and into your lungs. This is called aspiration. Aspiration can lead to choking, coughing, and difficulty breathing. It also can cause pneumonia (lung infection) and other serious health problems.
Call 911 or see a doctor right away if you aspirate (inhale) food or liquid into your lungs and:
-Have trouble breathing
-Have chest pain