When a patient is admitted to the emergency room with a diagnosis of alcohol poisoning, the first thing to do is to remove alcohol from his circulatory system. Dialysis does the job, but this approach is not always practical because the liver acts slowly and dialysis equipment is not available in all hospitals.
But now there is an opportunity to simplify and significantly speed up this process. Canadian scientist Joseph Fisher, who works at a research institute at a general hospital in Toronto, has proposed a relatively simple device that transfers the cleansing process from the liver to the lungs. It is a face mask that delivers carbon dioxide to keep the patient unconscious so that he can hyperventilate the lungs (deep breathing).
The detoxification process involved five volunteers, each drinking half a glass of vodka. Without a new device, it took two to three hours to flush the alcohol out of the body. A few days later the procedure was repeated, but this time a mask was used. And the body cleared of alcohol much faster – in just 40 minutes.
Fischer says the results need to be verified in a larger study, but the method can already be applied in other urgent cases – for example, when a poisonous substance enters a child’s body.
Fischer’s colleagues, who were not involved in the study, point to some difficulties in using the new method – for example, putting on and holding a mask on the face of a heavily drunk person. “But I think it makes sense to check,” says one of the doctors. “We have no other similar method.”
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