1. Visual analogue scaling of breathlessness made at discrete intervals during ventilatory stimulation tests can provide useful information about the intensity of this sensation. The aim of the present study was to investigate the use of continuous visual analogue scaling as a means of improving the temporal resolution of this measurement.
2. Six normal naive subjects scaled breathlessness using a visual analogue scale, during steady-state exercise. Further changes in this sensation were induced by either sustained hypercapnia or acute hypoxia; these responses were assessed either continuously or at discrete 30 s intervals and the two scaling methods were compared.
3. The continuous method of assessing breathlessness compared favourably with that of the more established discrete method, providing reproducible measurements in repeated tests equivalent in intensity to those obtained every 30 s.
4. Transient changes in the sensation of breathlessness produced by acute episodes of hypoxia were identified using the continuous scaling method but not with discrete scaling.
5. The continuous method of scaling breathlessness should aid the investigation of the neurophysiological basis of this sensation by allowing temporal relationships between changes in respiratory variables and the sensory consequences to be more carefully defined.