1. Methods were devised and evaluated for inducing breathlessness by submaximal graded exercise in healthy subjects while objective measurements of cardiorespiratory function were made. Breathlessness was assessed with serial visual analogue scales (VAS), but with various measures to enhance repeatability.

2. A high level of reproducibility was obtained in spite of the subjective nature of the assessment. Individual responses were described by the relationship between breathlessness and ventilation. The sensitivity of the method was demonstrated by the use of inspiratory resistances which disturbed this relationship and caused greater breathlessness for a given level of ventilation.

3. These methods were applied to six healthy subjects to analyse the effects of acute doses of diazepam and promethazine on breathlessness induced by graded exercise or by rebreathing carbon dioxide in a double-blind study.

4. During exercise, diazepam and promethazine did not reduce breathlessness, although there was a minor trend with promethazine. During exposure to elevated levels of carbon dioxide, diazepam and promethazine had no effect on breathlessness. Diazepam and promethazine produced similar levels of sedation, but neither drug had significant effects on the ventilatory response to carbon dioxide. These preliminary findings contrast with those reported for chronic diazepam in ‘pink puffers’.

5. Raised levels of carbon dioxide caused greater breathlessness in relation to ventilation than did exercise.

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