New study shows hyperventilating may help combat alcohol poisoning

Dec 15, 2020

New research carried out by a group of scientists at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute shows that breathing alcohol out of the body by hyperventilating can be effective in treating alcohol poisoning. The research team, headed by Dr. Joseph Fisher, has developed a technique to expel alcohol from the body during alcohol poisoning that does not have side effects and involves a simple mechanical device to assist breathing. The study was released in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports, published by Nature Research.

According to Dr. Fisher, this new technique simply takes advantage of the fact that exhalation eliminates alcohol that has evaporated from the blood into the lungs, along with carbon dioxide. “And the more breaths you take, the more evaporates. It’s that simple,” Dr. Fisher said in his interview with CBC News.

“But you can’t just hyperventilate, because in a minute or two you would become light-headed and pass out,” explained Fisher in a statement. This is why the new technique involves the use of a device that administers the exact amount of carbon dioxide needed to maintain normal levels in the blood, in order to avoid potential light-headedness, tingling or numbness on hands and feet, and fainting associated with hyperventilation.

The device developed by researchers is the size of a small briefcase and has a valve system, connecting tubes, a mask, and a small tank with compressed carbon dioxide. The use of the device to treat alcohol poisoning was evaluated by the researchers in a small study involving five male volunteers. This research was published earlier in November in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports, published by Nature Research.

In the study, participants drank about half a glass of vodka and according to the results, through the use of the device, they were able to eliminate alcohol three times faster than through the liver alone.

Although the study demonstrates the effectiveness of the device, Dr. Fisher said that more extensive clinical trials are needed to examine its use in clinical settings. Moreover, he added that one day, the device could serve as a powerful tool in any hospital emergency department.

“I used to be an emergency doc and I know they have big issues with patients who — on top of everything else — are also alcohol-intoxicated,” said Dr. Fisher. “Many of them, you don’t know what’s wrong with them. They’re coming in unconscious and highly alcohol-intoxicated so they’re hard to examine… And there’s nothing you can do. You have to wait until their livers metabolize it.”

Currently, there is no treatment for alcohol intoxication or to speed up the rate at which the liver works to eliminate alcohol from the body. Dr. Fisher has also suggested the device may have other applications, such as for treating survivors of a fire who may have inhaled toxins. However, he stated that the new technique is efficient if intoxication is high, and not that useful after a casual night of drinking.

Dr. Fisher warns that the treatment is designed for severe cases and that people should not try hyperventilating on their own.