The World's Leading PTR-MS Trace Analyzers Company

Real-time Breath Analysis

PTR-MS in medical applications

PTR-TOF are powerful tools for non-invasive breath gas analysis. The vast amount of information that is recorded in complete spectra with sub-second time resolution, their high sensitivity and high mass-resolving power makes them the de-facto standard for real-time breath analysis.

The analysis of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in exhaled breath has become a growing field of research in recent years. In the blood gas exchange in the lungs alveoli Carbon dioxide is released into and Oxygen is taken up from the inhaled air. This exchange also applies to volatile metabolites (endogenous compounds) or VOCs that have been consumed or have previously been inhaled (exogenous compounds). The sampling of VOCs in exhaled breath is non-invasive, simple and fast. This makes it especially intriguing and has numerous applications, see below.

IONICON PTR-TOF systems are particularly well suited for breath gas analysis: Their detection limits and linearity range match the concentrations typically found in breath and high mass resolving power allows to separate isobaric compounds. Moreover, in addition to offline analysis where breath is collected in a container and then analyzed, the high sensitivity and fast response time of these systems allows to analyze breath online and in real-time. IONICON PTR-TOF systems have become the de-facto standard for real-time breath analysis.


In real-time breath analysis, the exhaled breath is directly analyzed without sample preparation. Recording complete breathing cycles, see the figure to the right, 

yields the concentrations for the end-tidal (alveolar) fraction and also the inspired (room-air) concentrations, which can both be easily extracted by software. This provides immediate results and avoids complications often arising from sample collection and storage. Also, the measurement of unstable compounds that undergo rapid degradation may only be possible by real-time analysis. 

As an example, using an IONICON PTR-TOF 6000 X2, several hundred compounds are measured simultaneously in real-time from a single exhalation with limits of detection in the ppt range (1 ppt = 0.001 ppb).

IONICON has actively participated in several medical research projects. Our customers can benefit from this expertise which allows us to develop optimized products and to consult our clients for their medical application and scientific study design. IONICON has developed a BET breath-sampling inlet for real-time breath analysis with IONICON PTR-MS systems, which utilizes disposable mouth-pieces, certified for clinical use. 

Find out more about potential applications of real-time breath analysis with PTR-TOF, such as