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J Emerg Med. 1999 Mar-Apr;17(2):279-83.

Incidence of aspiration pneumonia in intubated patients receiving activated charcoal.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.


Several case reports and animal studies raise concerns over the risk of aspiration pneumonia when administering activated charcoal (AC) to intubated patients. Therefore, we sought to determine the incidence of aspiration pneumonia in intubated overdose patients who then received AC. We conducted a retrospective review from January 1994 to April 1997 of intubated patients who then received AC. Patients were transferred to, or primarily treated at, an 843-bed tertiary medical center with an annual emergency department volume of 100,000 patients. Objective evidence of infiltrate on chest radiograph during initial 48 h of hospitalization was used to determine the incidence of aspiration pneumonia. Patients with known preexisting pneumonia or with administration of AC before intubation were excluded. There were 64 patients identified. Fourteen were excluded for clinical aspiration before intubation, receiving activated charcoal before intubation, or abnormal immediate post-intubation chest radiographs. The remaining 50 patients, ages 1-64 years, 33% male, overdosing on a large variety of substances, required acute intubation and then received AC. Only two patients of these 50 (4%) with initial negative radiographs developed a new infiltrate after intubation and AC. Administration of AC to intubated overdose patients is associated with a low incidence of aspiration pneumonia.

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