When a patient turns up in the ER with alcohol poisoning, doctors don't have many options when it comes to getting the booze out of their system. Dialysis works but isn't always practical, meaning it's up to the painstakingly slow liver to get the job done, explains a post at Eureka Alert. Now, however, Canadian researchers say a simple device can dramatically speed up the process. And this time, it's the lungs doing the work, reports the Toronto Star. Essentially, patients breathe hard, or hyperventilate, and the researchers say it works three times faster than the liver alone. The problem is, people can't hyperventilate long before passing out. Enter the new device, developed by Joseph Fisher at University Health Network's Toronto General Hospital Research Institute. It delivers carbon dioxide to the patient via a mask, ensuring they don't pass out.
"It's a very basic, low-tech device that could be made anywhere in the world: no electronics, no computers or filters are required," says Fisher. "It's almost inexplicable why we didn't try this decades ago." In a small proof-of-concept study in Scientific Reports, Fisher's team had five volunteers each drink half a glass of vodka. Without the device, it took two to three hours for their bodies to clear the alcohol. On a separate day, the same five used the device and cleared the booze in 40 minutes while hyperventilating, per the Globe and Mail. The next step is to confirm the findings in larger studies, but Fisher says the principle could be applied to other emergencies, such as when a child ingests toxins. A doctor not involved with study notes some potential issues, such as getting the mask on a very drunk person. “But I think it makes sense to try," he says. "We don’t have anything else." (Read more alcohol poisoning stories.)