Ingestion – when food enters the windpipe

Ingestion - when food enters the windpipe

Devoured, they quickly swallowed the bite, and it happened: a chunk of food slipped into the windpipe and not into the oesophagus and was carried back into the air with solid coughing. Everyone has choked at some point – but there are diseases where constant choking becomes life-threatening.

The act of swallowing and swallowing

In the oral cavity and pharynx, the food path, which wants to be crushed into the oesophagus, crosses the path of the breathing air, which flows from above through the nose in the direction of the lungs. It is evident that such a “traffic junction” is susceptible to disturbances such as choking. For the everyday act of swallowing to function, the interaction of several nerves must be coordinated, and various processes must occur one after the other. If only one nerve fails, the entrance to the trachea is unprotected, and food gets into the lungs.

While chewing and the beginning of swallowing are influenced and consciously initiated by us, food transport from the throat to the stomach occurs automatically and involuntarily. The epiglottis, which represents the upper end of the trachea, is closed reflexively so that the chyme can flow past here.

If you imagine that an adult swallows up to 2,000 times a day, it shows how rarely this process goes typically wrong – it becomes all the more problematic when this process, which we take for granted, fails due to nervous breakdowns.


And hiccups?

 It is still unclear why hiccups occur. It is thought to be related to the unborn child’s breathing exercises and the sequence of movements of hiccups to help babies suckle. Many home remedies help against hiccups – chirotherapy is also used for persistent, recurring hiccups. You can find out what helps against hiccups here.

In which situations do you choke more often?

As a healthy adult, you are familiar with typical situations predestined for choking: you wolf down your food in a short lunch break, discuss an urgent problem with colleagues, are (s)t distracted by external influences and do not concentrate on the eating process.

Or you are eating a delicious meal in a relaxed atmosphere, and then an unforeseen event occurs:

  • There is thunder.
  • The doorbell rings.
  • A picture falls off the wall or in the next room.
  • A door creaks open due to a draft.

Both lack of concentration and being startled can lead to the everyday act of swallowing coming to a halt and the individual processes continuing incorrectly – whether the food then gets into the trachea or a bite that is too large is swallowed too early. The consequences are coughing fits or pain in the oesophagus while the piece of food is laboriously transported to the stomach.


Swallowing in babies and children

Infants and young children also choke. However, they are more likely to put objects in their mouths and accidentally swallow objects not intended for consumption during play.

Coins and small toy parts (Lego, components, marbles), in particular, are swallowed and reach the gastrointestinal tract this way. Fortunately, these foreign bodies rarely get into the trachea and usually lead to a violent coughing attack.

neurological diseases

The situation is different for people who suffer from a neurological disease. Approximately half of all stroke patients develop a swallowing disorder after a short time, which means that eating, drinking, and even swallowing the body’s saliva becomes a health risk since there is a daily risk of aspiration – this is how the penetration of foreign substances is called medically into the airways during inspiration.

Other neurological disorders are also associated with an increased risk of aspiration, for example

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • the craniocerebral trauma
  • multiple sclerosis or
  • tumours of the nervous system

The average nerve conduction is disturbed in all these diseases, so nerve excitation cannot be coordinated.

Aspiration during surgery

A particular case is an aspiration during an operation. The anaesthesia disables the swallowing mechanism, and food or liquid taken just before the operation can run back out of the oesophagus and into the windpipe – that’s why anesthesiologists place so much importance on ensuring you are warned before a planned surgery to remain sober.



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