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What is Aspiration?

Aspiration in children is a serious and common problem. It usually presents with an initial episode of choking with subsequent respiratory symptoms. Aspiration occurs whenever secretions, solid food or liquids "go down the wrong pipe" and enter the airway and lungs.  Aspirating material into the lungs can lead to respiratory problems, such as pneumonia.  While there may be observable signs that accompany aspiration events, such as coughing, choking, eye reddening during eating, or a gurgly vocal quality after swallowing, infants and children can also aspirate "silently," or with no observable symptoms.

If your child is found to be aspirating, follow up therapy is recommended to work with you and your child to develop a feeding/swallowing program based on your child's unique needs.

Signs and risks for aspiration

  • Any child with a history of recurrent pneumonia or chronic respiratory illness.
  • Any child with neuromuscular disorders, both structural and functional (i.e., cerebral palsy, etc.).
  • Children with excessive drooling, especially if seen to cough or gag on their own secretions.
  • Infants/children with history of gastroesophageal reflux disease.
  • Children who have acquired brain damage secondary to open or closed head injuries, with particular importance on those with brainstem/cranial nerve involvement.
  • Infants who are born prematurely.
  • Infants/children with chronic heart disease.
  • Infants/children with craniofacial anomalies (i.e., cleft palate, etc.).
  • Infants/children with congenital syndromes.
  • Children with upper airway anomalies (i.e., congenital defects of the larynx, trachea, and esophagus; tracheoesophageal fistulas).
  • Children who exhibit failure to gain weight or poor weight gain; diagnosis of failure to thrive.
  • Sucking and swallowing incoordination or weak suck.
  • Breathing disruption or apnea during feeding.
  • Children with behavioral feeding problems (i.e., refusal to eat new foods or unexplained food refusal; rigid feeding behaviors; irritablilty during or after feeding).
  • Children with feeding periods longer than 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Children receiving enteral/tube feedings, especially under the age of 2.
  • Children who exhibit aversive responses to oral stimulation