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The breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) standardized to the alveolar water vapour concentration has been shown to closely predict the arterial blood alcohol (ethanol) concentration (ABAC). However, a transient increase in the ABAC/BrAC ratio has been noted, when alcohol is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract (absorption phase) and the ABAC rapidly rises. We analysed the plot of simultaneously recorded alcohol, water vapour and CO(2) against exhaled volume (volumetric expirogram) for respiratory dead space volume (VD), cumulative gas output and phase III slope within one breath to evaluate whether changes in the BrAC profile could explain this variability. Eight healthy subjects performed exhalations through pre-heated non-restrictive mouthpieces and the concentrations were measured by infrared absorption. In the absorption phase, the respiratory VD of alcohol was transiently increased and the exhaled alcohol was displaced to the latter part of the expirogram. In the post-absorption phase, the respiratory VD for alcohol and water vapour was stable and always less than the respiratory VD for CO(2), indicating that the first part of the exhaled alcohol and water originated from the conducting airway. The position of the BrAC profile between water vapour and CO(2) in the post-absorptive phase indicates an interaction within the conducting airway, probably including a deposition of alcohol onto the mucosa during exhalation. We conclude that the increase in the ABAC/BrAC ratio during the absorption phase of alcohol coincides with a transient increase in respiratory VD of alcohol and a delay in the appearance of alcohol in the exhaled air as the exhalation proceeds compared with the post-absorption phase.


L Lindberg, D Grubb. Simultaneously recorded single-exhalation profiles of ethanol, water vapour and CO(2) in humans: impact of pharmacokinetic phases on ethanol airway exchange. Journal of breath research. 2012 Sep;6(3):036001

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PMID: 22659511

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