Dead Space Volume Calculation Formula

Some of the air a person breathes never reaches the gas exchange areas but simply fills respiratory passages where gas exchange does not occur, such as the nose, pharynx, and trachea. This air is called dead space air because it is not useful for gas exchange.

A simple method for measuring dead space volume is demonstrated by the following graph:


In making this measurement, the subject suddenly takes a deep breath of oxygen. This fills the entire dead space with pure oxygen. Some oxygen also mixes with the alveolar air but does not completely replace this air.

Then the person expires through a rapidly recording nitrogen meter, which makes the record shown in the figure. The first portion of the expired air comes from the dead space regions of the respiratory passageways, where the air has been completely replaced by oxygen. Therefore, in the early part of the record, only oxygen appears, and the nitrogen concentration is zero. 

Then, when alveolar air begins to reach the nitrogen meter, the nitrogen concentration rises rapidly, because alveolar air containing large amounts of nitrogen begins to mix with the dead space air. After still more air has been expired, all the dead space air has been washed from the passages and only alveolar air remains. Therefore, the recorded nitrogen concentration reaches a plateau level equal to its concentration in the alveoli, as shown to the right in the figure. With a little thought, the student can see that the gray area represents the air that has no nitrogen in it; this area is a measure of the volume of dead space air. For exact quantification, the following equation is used:


Let us assume, for instance, that the gray area on the graph is 30 square centimeters, the pink area is 70 square centimeters, and the total volume expired is 500 milliliters. The dead space would be:

(30 × 500) ÷ (30 + 70) = 150 ml

Normal Dead Space Volume: The normal dead space air in a young adult man is about 150 milliliters. This increases slightly with age.

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