Measurements are reported of the effects of respiratory stresses upon the absolute threshold of peripheral (rod) vision. Since subjects were kept wholly dark adapted and the photochemical system of the rods therefore stationary, the changes recorded may be assumed to have originated more centrally. To this degree the measurements provide a quantitative index of central nervous imbalance.
Breathing room air or 32 to 36 per cent oxygen at about double the normal rate causes the visual threshold to fall to approximately half the normal value within 5 to 10 minutes.
This change is due primarily to alkalosis induced by the hyperventilation, and can be abolished or reversed by adding carbon dioxide to the inspired mixtures. Normal or rapid breathing of 2 per cent carbon dioxide causes no change in threshold; with 5 per cent carbon dioxide the threshold is approximately doubled.
Breathing 10 per cent oxygen at the normal rate also approximately doubles the threshold. This effect is compensated in part by rapid breathing. When 10 per cent oxygen is breathed at twice the normal rate the threshold usually falls at first, then slowly rises to supernormal levels.
Due primarily to variations in their breathing patterns subjects yield characteristically different responses on sudden exposure to low oxygen tensions with breathing uncontrolled. The threshold may either rise or fall; and on release from anoxia it may rise, or fall to normal or subnormal levels. The threshold adjusts to anoxia rapidly; exposures lasting 5 to 6 hours do not produce greater or more persistent changes than those of much shorter duration.