Previous work has left unresolved questions on whether promethazine reduces the sensation of breathlessness. This study was designed to provide a definitive answer and to determine the contributions from promethazine's major pharmacological actions. Twelve healthy subjects participated in a double-blind, within-subject comparison of promethazine and placebo each given acutely by mouth. Breathlessness was assessed with visual analogue scales during a progressive exercise test and was related to minute ventilation. Promethazine had no significant effect on breathlessness nor on the relationship between breathlessness and ventilation. The role of histamine-antagonism was investigated in a subgroup of the subjects by administration of mebhydrolin. No effect on breathlessness was detected. In contrast, the standard phenothiazine, chlorpromazine, caused a marked and statistically significant reduction in breathlessness without affecting ventilation and without causing detectable sedation. This unexpected finding merits further study in patients and is discussed with reference to the role of chlorpromazine as a constituent of Brompton's Mixture.