Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to damaging and even deadly ethanol poisoning in the body. Current treatment options are limited, but researchers may have discovered a new use for a device that treats carbon monoxide poisoning. It essentially allows a person to safely hyperventilate without passing out.
The device is the ClearMate from Thornhill Medical, a for-profit spinoff company from the University Health Network in Canada. A study of the device found that hyperventilation eliminated alcohol from the body at least three times faster than through the liver alone, said UHN in a statement on Thursday.
Loss of carbon dioxide while hyperventilating can lead to fainting. ClearMate solves this problems by returning carbon dioxide to the patient through a face mask. This allows the lungs to breathe out the ethanol from alcohol intoxication, lowering its presence in the blood.
While it sounds like this device could be popular for people who party too much, there are some serious medical stakes here. UHN said it “could become a game-changer in rescue therapy for severe alcohol intoxication, as well as just ‘sobering up.'”
The human liver handles the brunt of the work of clearing alcohol out of the human system, but it can only work so fast. “This leaves as the only options to treat life-threatening alcohol levels supportive measures such as giving oxygen, intravenous fluids, breathing assistance, and treating any heart issues with drugs,” said UHN.
“It’s a very basic, low-tech device that could be made anywhere in the world: no electronics, no computers or filters are required,” said Thornhill Medical co-founder Joseph Fisher. “It’s almost inexplicable why we didn’t try this decades ago.”
The device was previously approved by the FDA in 2019 for marketing as a treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning.
The team published its findings in the journal Scientific Reports this month under the title “Accelerated ethanol elimination via the lungs.” The study was a proof of concept with just five volunteers, so ClearMate isn’t yet cleared for use in treating alcohol intoxication.
The researchers are recommending follow-up studies with the goal of heading into clinical trials.