Aspiration is a syndrome with variable respiratory manifestations that span acute, life-threatening illnesses, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome, to chronic, sometimes insidious, respiratory disorders such as aspiration bronchiolitis. Diagnostic testing is limited by the insensitivity of histologic testing, and although gastric biomarkers for aspiration are increasingly available, none have been clinically validated. The leading mechanism for microaspiration is thought to be gastroesophageal reflux disease, largely driven by the increased prevalence of gastroesophageal reflux across a variety of respiratory disorders, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and chronic cough. Failure of therapies targeting gastric acidity in clinical trials, in addition to increasing concerns about both the overuse of and adverse events associated with proton pump inhibitors, raise questions about the precise mechanism and causal link between gastroesophageal reflux and respiratory disease. Our review summarizes key aspiration syndromes with a focus on reflux-mediated aspiration and highlights the need for additional mechanistic studies to find more effective therapies for aspiration syndromes.
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