A new device could help you sober up faster – through breathing

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  • Researchers have developed a simple system that can help the body clear alcohol at a quicker rate 
  • A similar device was approved by the FDA in 2019 to treat carbon monoxide poisoning
  • It was then modified to also address alcohol poisoning 

Scientists from the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute in Canada, have developed a device that essentially reverses the effects of binge drinking – and may soon be used in clinical settings. The greatest potential of the device is that it could reduce road fatalities.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide, three million deaths are caused by the harmful use of alcohol every year.

The device is a compact, simple, proof-of-concept system that can help the body clear alcohol at a faster-than-normal rate. To do this, it employs the lungs to join the liver in driving out the alcohol.

A basic, low-tech device

The liver normally removes 90% of alcohol from the blood, but until now, there was no way for this process to be sped up. However, if the lungs can help to expel the alcohol, it can be cleared from the blood and the rest of the body up to three times faster, the team found.

This means that the harder the breathing, the more alcohol is eliminated.

"It's a very basic, low-tech device that could be made anywhere in the world: no electronics, no computers or filters are required," anaesthesiologist Joseph Fisher, from the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute in Canada said in a news release.

For Fisher, it’s almost “inexplicable” that this wasn’t tried many years ago.

The equipment is the size of a small briefcase. It uses a valve system, connecting tubes, a mask, and a small tank with compressed carbon dioxide. 

The findings were published in Scientific Reports.

Five volunteers

For this study, the scientists adapted the breathing apparatus, called ClearMate, to aid the process and to pump oxygen and carbon dioxide back into the body.

The pilot study included five male volunteers in a laboratory setting, with and without alcohol in their blood (a single vodka-based drink was used to supply the alcohol).

The system is also quite impressive in its ability to return exactly the right amount of carbon dioxide back to the blood, while the alcohol is hyperventilated away.

“You can't just hyperventilate, because in a minute or two you would become light-headed and pass out," explained Fisher.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had already allowed ClearMate to be marketed as a way to treat carbon monoxide poisoning in emergency rooms in 2019. With its latest modifications, the team is hoping it can become a helpful method of also dealing with alcohol poisoning.

Dr. Fisher demonstrating ClearMate

Fisher demonstrates the use of ClearMate in his lab. (Image: UHN)

Next steps

The scientists are now aiming to test the process more widely, and, more importantly, to ensure it can work with people with serious amounts of alcohol in their system (as participants in this study only had mildly elevated blood ethanol concentrations of approximately  0.1%), and who are at serious risk of health conditions.

"At lower blood ethanol concentrations, impaired judgment and coordination make people a risk to themselves and to those around them, but high levels put them at risk for organ damage and death from pulmonary aspiration, respiratory depression, and malignant arrhythmias," the researchers wrote.

The team recommends following up with further validation studies to understand how this system could be applied in a clinical setting.

READ | Brain scans reveal binge drinkers have to work harder to feel empathy for others

READ | Your smartphone may be able to tell if you’re drunk by analysing your walk

READ | '0% alcohol' beverages may be the latest sipping trend, but for recovering alcoholics, it could be a dangerous trigger

Image: Pixabay

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