Albuterol Effects on a Breathalyzer

Updated February 21, 2017

For people with asthma carrying an inhaler at all times is important. Many of those contain albuterol which can relieve wheezing, coughing and other symptoms right away. Sometimes people are stopped while driving for a breathalyser test and the albuterol from the inhaler can cause a false positive.

Albuterol Inhalers

False positives usually happen when the inhaler has been used within the past hour. Albuterol is a Bronchodilator for asthma to ease symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing. It has some chemical structures which can appear to be like alcohol. Using inhalers with bronchodilators helps relieve asthma symptoms much faster than oral drugs by dilating and or widening your airways so are essential for emergencies.

How Albuterol Works

Short-acting bronchodilators are mostly used as asthma "rescue" medications when a sudden attack develops. Long-acting bronchodilators can be used daily for asthma control. Bronchodilators do two important things by opening up the bronchial tubes so that more air can move through, and also helping to clear mucus from the lungs. Once the airways open, the mucus can be more easily coughed up. Since both types use albuterol, they can potentially cause the false positive on a breath test.

How Breathalyzers Work

These devices are used by police to test for drinking by measuring driver's blood alcohol level and whether it is within the legal limit. Breathalyzers attempt to measure the presence of chemicals found in alcohol. However the machine often measures chemicals with molecular structures similar to those found in alcohol.And albuterol is one of those substances.

Albuterol and Alcohol

The problem with many breathalyzers is that they identify any compound containing the methyl group molecular structure, and albuterol is one of those. According to Dr. David Hanson, over 100 compounds can be found in the human breath at any one time, many of which contain [a] methyl group structure and will be incorrectly detected as ethyl alcohol.

Avoiding False Positives

Blood tests are far more reliable indicators of blood alcohol content. However new types of Breathalyzers coming onto the market work more accurately by identifying only ethanol alcohol in a breath test. So if you are stopped and asked to take a breath alcohol test, you can refuse and request a blood alcohol test instead. Also you can tell the officer about your inhaler, show it to him or her, and let them know that it often causes false readings.

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About the Author

Wanda Bershen has been writing for over 20 years on Fundraising, Marketing and Planning for arts organizations, including newsletters, proposals & planning documents, and articles for leading art and film publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Bryn Mawr College and a Master of Philosophy from Yale University.