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Lung diseases

Fluid in Lungs

06/21/2010

Question:

My father, who is 92 and living in a rest home, has been put on nectar fluids because the liquid he drinks is going into his lungs. Can this be correct? Now, he drinks less water and other liquids because he does not like the nectar fluids.

A CAT scan done two months ago showed fluid and pus, but the technician said it looked like it had been there for some time. Can anything be done about this?

He does NOT have trouble breathing and rarely coughs. He does have a runny nose.

What questions should I be asking? Thank you for your help.

Answer:

Without having specific medical knowledge of your father’s case, it sounds like your father is having problems with aspiration. This means that, instead of liquids going down his food tube (esophagus) to the stomach, they are going into his lungs. This can at times, lead to pneumonia (infection in the lungs). This occurs because the esophagus and windpipe (trachea) sit right next to one another.

As far as his CT scan, there is nothing, which can distinguish between fluid and pus in the lungs on a CT scan. It does not sound like your father has pneumonia.

Questions you might consider asking your doctor include: Why was a CT ordered? What are the options for your father if he continues to not drink? Why does he aspirate? Can anything be done to improve his aspiration – for example, would speech therapy help?

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Response by:

James M O'Brien, Jr, MD James M O'Brien, Jr, MD
Former Associate Professor
Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University