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Paradigm Shift for the Alcohol Breath Test

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The alcohol breath test (ABT) has been used for quantification of ethyl alcohol in individuals suspected of driving under the influence for more than 50 years. In this time, there has been little change in the concepts underlying this single breath test. The old model, which assumes that end-exhaled breath alcohol concentration is closely related to alveolar air alcohol concentration, is no longer acceptable. This paper reviews experimental research and mathematical modeling which has evaluated the pulmonary exchange processes for ethyl alcohol. Studies have shown that alcohol exchanges dynamically with the airway tissue both during inspiration and expiration. The airway tissue interaction makes it impossible to deliver air with alveolar alcohol concentration to the mouth. It is concluded that the ABT is dependent on physiological factors that need to be assessed for accurate testing.
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Keywords: airway alcohol exchange; airway mucus; breath alcohol concentration; forensic science; respiratory physiology; scientific evolution

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Box 356522, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-6522.

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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