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Open Access Research article

A crossover study of short burst oxygen therapy (SBOT) for the relief of exercise-induced breathlessness in severe COPD

B Ronan O'Driscoll*, Jane Neill, Siddiq Pulakal and Peter M Turkington

Author Affiliations

Manchester Academic Health Science Centre University of Manchester Salford Royal University Hospital Stott Lane, Salford M6 8HD UK

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BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2011, 11:23  doi:10.1186/1471-2466-11-23

Published: 13 May 2011



Previous small studies suggested SBOT may be ineffective in relieving breathlessness after exercise in COPD.


34 COPD patients with FEV1 <40% predicted and resting oxygen saturation ≥93% undertook an exercise step test 4 times. After exercise, patients were given 4 l/min of oxygen from a simple face mask, 4 l/min air from a face mask (single blind), air from a fan or no intervention.


Average oxygen saturation fell from 95.0% to 91.3% after exercise. The mean time to subjective recovery was 3.3 minutes with no difference between treatments. The mean Borg breathlessness score was 1.5/10 at rest, rising to 5.1/10 at the end of exercise (No breathlessness = 0, worst possible breathlessness = 10). Oxygen therapy had no discernable effect on Borg scores even for 14 patients who desaturated below 90%. 15 patients had no preferred treatment, 7 preferred oxygen, 6 preferred the fan, 3 preferred air via a mask and 3 preferred room air.


This study provides no support for the idea that COPD patients who are not hypoxaemic at rest derive noticeable benefit from oxygen therapy after exercise. Use of air from a mask or from a fan had no apparent physiological or placebo effect.