Breathing pattern, gas exchange, and respiratory effort were assessed in five awake children with chronic stridor caused by laryngomalacia during spontaneous breathing (SB) and noninvasive mechanical ventilation (NIMV). During SB, the youngest children were able to maintain normal gas exchange at the expense of an increased work of breathing as assessed by calculated diaphragmatic pressure-time product (PTPdi), whereas the opposite was observed in the older children. NIMV increased tidal volume, from 8.77 +/- 2.04 ml/kg during SB to 11.67 +/- 2.52 ml/kg during NIMV, p = 0.04, and decreased respiratory rate, from 24.4 +/- 5.6 breaths/ min during SB to 16.6 +/- 0.9 breaths/min during NIMV, p = 0.04. NIMV unloaded the respiratory muscles as reflected by the significant reduction in PTPdi, from a mean value of 541.0 +/- 196.6 cm H(2)O x s x min(-1) during SB to 214.8 +/- 116.0 cm H(2)O x s x min(-1) during NIMV, p = 0.04. Therefore, NIMV successfully relieves the additional load imposed on the respiratory muscles. Long-term home NIMV was provided to a total of 12 children with laryngomalacia (including these five) and was associated with clinical improvement in sleep and growth.