Asthma Inhalers Can Cause False Breathalyzer Readings

We’ve previously noted how inaccurate a breathalyzer test can be in measuring a DUI suspect’s BAC.  Any number of factors can contribute to a false test, but did you know that asthma inhalers produce some of the most exaggerated erroneous breathalyzer results?  Bet you never thought your asthma may get you falsely arrested for DUI.

Breathalyzers work by measuring the presence of methyl group chemicals present in the breath, which usually correlates with the amount of alcohol present in the blood.  However, many substances other than ethanol alcohol (the alcohol present in alcoholic beverages) contain methyl compounds.  Some of these compounds are not absorbed into the blood stream, and therefore have no affect on an individual’s BAC.

Albuterol, a common component of the most popular asthma inhalers, is one such substance that contains a methyl compound that is not absorbed.  In a study jointly conducted by the Department of Pharmacology at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Toxicologic Associates, Inc., researchers found that test subjects who were completely sober but had taken two puffs of an Albuterol inhaler experienced readings as high as .21 on a breathalyzer test.  Effects were even more marked in subjects who had been drinking, with the effects lasting more than 20 minutes after taking an inhaler.

Since the study was released, advancements in breathalyzer technology have produced machines that can more accurately detect only ethanol alcohol in calculating a test taker’s BAC.  However, these new technologies have not been universally adopted, and many law enforcement departments continue to use the less accurate older breathalyzers.  When a law enforcement officer asks you to perform a breathalyzer, there is no way to ensure they are using the most up-to-date technology.  If you have recently used an asthma inhaler, you will want to seriously consider whether consenting to the test is in your best interests.

Other substances that have been found to interfere with breathalyzer test results include mouthwashes containing a high percent of alcohol, dental adhesives or denture cleaners and industrial solvents (which can be absorbed through the skin).  If you suspect you have blown a false positive during a breathalyzer test, you’ll want to consult with a Florida DUI lawyer to discuss your legal options.

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