1. The subjective changes accompanying alterations in inspired oxygen concentration during heavy exercise have been investigated single blind, in normal subjects.
2. In particular, the intensity of the sensation of breathlessness was quantified using a visual analogue scale and changes were compared with those in objective ventilatory measures.
3. Eleven subjects performed three steady-state workload exercise tests on different days and 100% O2, 15% O2 or air were randomly administered for a fixed interval during each test.
4. Compared with air breathing, all subjects felt less breathless during 100% O2 breathing, and ten of them felt more breathless when inspiring 15% O2; these changes were reversed on return to air breathing.
5. During and after 100% O2, the time course of changes in breathlessness was similar to those for ear arterial oxygen saturation and minute ventilation such that it could be a secondary response to either. However, during and after inspiration of 15% O2, changes in breathlessness occurred relatively more quickly than those in ventilation, more closely reflecting changes in oxygen saturation; this suggests that hypoxia, per se, could contribute to the genesis of this sensation.
6. Individual variability in breathlessness responses to exercise and changes in inspired oxygen concentration did not correlate with objective ventilatory changes; neither were changes in breathlessness in the group particularly associated with changes in respiratory frequency or tidal volume.