1. The effects of convective facial cooling by cold air on arterial blood pressure, heart rate and finger blood flow and on the reflex interactions between facial cooling and respiratory and orthostatic cardiac reflexes have been examined in 28 young adults (20–39 years) and 17 elderly (66–78 years) volunteer subjects.

2. During 2 min facial cooling alone, bradycardia was smaller (P < 0.001) and reduction in finger blood flow smaller (P < 0.001) in elderly subjects than in young subjects. Increases in systolic blood pressure and mean arterial pressure were similar and diastolic pressure increased only in the young subjects. Systolic blood pressure and mean arterial pressure remained elevated in the elderly 1 min after facial cooling, but subsided in the young.

3. Arterial blood pressure increased more during a 30-s breath-hold in expiration than in inspiration (P < 0.001) in both groups, and this was exaggerated by breath-hold in expiration combined with facial cooling. The bradycardia produced by facial cooling and breath-holding in expiration was more pronounced in the young subjects than in the elderly (P < 0.002).

4. Interactions between facial cooling and orthostatic reflexes induced by lower-body negative pressure showed significantly different age-related linear trends. Facial cooling diminished the hypotension induced by lower-body negative pressure in both groups. Facial cooling had a greater effect in diminishing the lower-body negative pressure-induced tachycardia in the young than in the elderly.

5. The mechanism of alteration of the facial cooling response in elderly subjects could be largely impairment of arterial baroreflexes, particularly as a result of reduced cardiac vagal activity as well as impairment of cardiopulmonary reflexes with ageing.

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