Breath tests and airway gas exchange

Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2007;20(2):112-7. doi: 10.1016/j.pupt.2005.12.002. Epub 2006 Jan 18.


Measuring soluble gas in the exhaled breath is a non-invasive technique used to estimate levels of respiratory, solvent, and metabolic gases. The interpretation of these measurements is based on the assumption that the measured gases exchange in the alveoli. While the respiratory gases have a low blood-solubility and exchange in the alveoli, high blood-soluble gases exchange in the airways. The effect of airway gas exchange on the interpretation of these exhaled breath measurements can be significant. We describe airway gas exchange in relation to exhaled measurements of soluble gases that exchange in the alveoli. The mechanisms of airway gas exchange are reviewed and criteria for determining if a gas exchanges in the airways are provided. The effects of diffusion, perfusion, temperature and breathing maneuver on airway gas exchange and on measurement of exhaled soluble gas are discussed. A method for estimating the impact of airway gas exchange on exhaled breath measurements is presented. We recommend that investigators should carefully control the inspired air conditions and type of exhalation maneuver used in a breath test. Additionally, care should be taken when interpreting breath tests from subjects with pulmonary disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breath Tests / methods
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / diagnosis
  • Lung Diseases / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / physiology*
  • Pulmonary Gas Exchange / physiology*
  • Respiratory Function Tests / methods