February 4, 2006 in Features

Aspiration of food no laughing matter

Peter Gott, M.D. The Spokesman-Review
 

Dear Dr. Gott: My mother, who passed away six months go, would’ve loved this one. Ever since I was in college, she would send your columns she thought pertinent to me – from warts to leg cramps. I rolled my eyes often at the possible medical-related disasters she thought I could get myself into.

During a recent sobbing fit while thinking of my now-deceased mom, I inhaled a kernel or two of fresh corn (with a little seasoning salt). It definitely went into my lungs. I felt immediate discomfort but coughed only a little as it shot right down without much incident.

Feeling silly but concerned, I made a call to my general practitioner’s office. I knew I wasn’t in any immediate life-threatening danger but wanted to know the lasting effects or possibility of later infection. The assistant who answered the phone assured me I was fine, as my stomach acids would absorb it. Upon my insistence that I’m sure there is no stomach acid in my lungs, I requested she ask another employee, preferably a nurse or doctor. Finally, I received a call back and was told that unless I cough a lot, I should be OK, and if I do, I should go to the emergency room. Let’s just say I don’t think a lot of thought went into my inquiry.

I ask, what will happen to this food item? Being mostly water, I imagine my body will absorb it, but what about the kernel’s hard outer shell? Any advice is appreciated. My mom most certainly would’ve clipped this one out and sent it my way. And I most certainly would’ve rolled my eyes and sighed, “Oh, mother!”

Dear Reader: Aspiration of food products should never be disregarded or trivialized. Although a kernel or two of corn might have ended up in your lung, such an outcome needs to be diagnosed by X-rays or a bronchial exam. If, indeed, the corn worked its way into your lung, it should, in my opinion, be removed in order to prevent chronic pneumonia.

If, on the other hand, the kernel did not enter the lung tissue (a far more common occurrence), then further therapy is not required.

In all fairness, I must support your questioning that “stomach acids” would “absorb the kernel.” That’s not true. Stomach acids are in the stomach, as you pointed out, not in the lungs. Oh, mother!

To give you related information, I am sending you a copy of my Health Report “Pulmonary Disease.” Other readers who would like a copy should send a long, self-addressed, stamped envelope and $2 to Newsletter, PO Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092. Be sure to mention the title.


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