Imagine you swallow something up and not everything gets out of the windpipe (this is possible right?).

Would it be possible for the lung to handle with the rest implying that it is organic? Would it slowing absorb it?

  • $\begingroup$ I'd suspect that the bacteria in your lungs would end up with a feast, you'd end up with a major or minor lung infection and hopefully, once the food is gone, the bacteria will go back to their normal population levels and everything will be hunky-dory. Or you could die. $\endgroup$ Mar 15, 2014 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ Not well - see aspiration pneumonia - small amounts of food would be dealt with without too much problem, simply being coughed up. Lung tissue isn't designed to digest or absorb so I can't imagine it being anywhere near effective in this regard $\endgroup$
    – Rory M
    Mar 15, 2014 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ It would also absorb inorganic food by the way, salt for example. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Mar 15, 2014 at 19:06

1 Answer 1


When we eat the architecture makes sure most if not all the food ends up in our foodpipe rather than our windpipe. This is aided by a structure called the epiglottis.

However frequently foods may be inhaled, for example if a drink is sucked through a straw more if it gets into the lungs compared to if we drink it. Occasionally we will inhale a peanut or something else which typically occurs due to abnormal relaxation or muscular problems in the structures involved. This may be due to a neurological disease (e.g. myasthenia gravis) or because simply drinking too much and inhaling peanuts or vomit (aspiration).

If the inhaled substance is small and lipid soluble e.g. alcohol, it can pass through the alveoli at the end of the lung to the rich blood supply. If it doesn't we rely on macrophages to digest the food. They aren't frequent enough to digest anything substantial. Bacteria however are great at munching this up and increase substantially in number. Typically your lowest airways are sterile but food can interfere with clearance mechanisms and provide a home. The part of the lung blocked (distal to the foreign object) can collapse and frequently does. In the long run this may cause bronchiectasis, where an infection recurrently affects the area due to permanent damage done during the initial event resulting in widened airways and an ongoing inflammatory response. The inflammatory response reveals even more receptors for bacteria to latch on to.


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