- Breathalyser may give doctors new way to diagnose respiratory condition
- Lung disease is one of the major causes of illness and death in the country
- Currently, the gold-standard tool for assessing lung problems is a bronchoscope
A breathalyser may give doctors a new way to diagnose a range of respiratory conditions in as little as two minutes.
Lung disease is one of the major causes of illness and death in the UK, with one in five people having a respiratory disease.
These include asthma, lung cancer, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — an umbrella term for a group of conditions that cause breathing difficulties, which affects three million people.
However, it can be difficult to distinguish between lung diseases because symptoms such as wheezing, breathlessness and coughing often overlap.
Breathalyser may give doctors a new way to diagnose respiratory conditions in a matter of minutes. (Stock image)
This means patients may not get the right treatment initially, or have to make multiple trips to their GP or consultant before receiving the correct diagnosis.
Currently, the gold-standard tool for assessing lung problems is a bronchoscope — a thin tube with a light on the end of it that is put down the airway so a doctor or nurse can look inside the lungs.
However, this procedure is not suitable for routine or regular use as it carries risks.
For example, up to 10 per cent of those with asthma develop respiratory symptoms after a bronchoscopy.
It’s also expensive, requires a minimum of two qualified nurses to perform it, and getting the results can take more than 24 hours.
The new hand-held breathalyser device may offer a new non-invasive and speedy solution.
A team from Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust is trialling the gadget, which tests exhaled breath. It examines elements such as hydrogen peroxide and carbon dioxide levels, humidity, temperature and pressure.
Breath can also contain particles such as lipids (fats), ammonia and nitrogen oxides. Different respiratory diseases lead to differing concentrations of these.
High levels of nitric oxide, for example, can be a marker of inflamed airways associated with asthma, while hydrogen peroxide and an increased exhaled breath temperature may suggest COPD.
The theory is that identifying the contents of exhaled breath will allow doctors to pinpoint which condition a patient has.
More than 250 people with a range of lung diseases, as well as healthy men and women, are taking part in the trial. They breathe into the battery-powered device for up to one minute, or around 20 breaths.
It collects samples in a sensor cartridge, and results are shown on the display in minutes.
It is hoped the breathalyser, developed by UK-based Exhalation Technology, will help to distinguish between asthma, COPD, lung cancer, pneumonia, bronchiectasis (a long-term condition where the airways of the lungs become abnormally widened, leading to a build-up of mucus) and interstitial lung disease (conditions that cause lung scarring or fibrosis).
It could also be used to monitor the severity and progress of the disease, and the effects of any treatment, researchers say.
Richard Russell, a consultant chest physician and honorary senior lecturer at Imperial College London, says: ‘This is innovative new technology.
‘We want to give the right medication to the right patients to maximise effect and minimise side-effects. This technology may help with this.’
Meanwhile, yoga may be the best exercise for COPD, say researchers at the University Magna Graecia of Catanzaro in Italy, who compared the effectiveness of different breathing exercises in patients.
Their report, in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, shows yoga (in the form of slow-paced breathing exercises, which strengthen the respiratory muscles) came top, followed by belly breathing (designed to strengthen the diaphragm).