This double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study was performed to evaluate the effect of terbutaline administered by a turbuhaler on spirometry, walking distance and dyspnoea during exercise in patients with chronic obstructive lung disease (COLD) and to evaluate relationships between changes in spirometry and working indices. The patients had a maximum reversibility in FEV1 of 15% predicted, and to ensure the option of studying correlations between changes in spirometry and working indices in patients with COLD a wide range of reversibility in FVC was ensured. Eighteen patients (M, 12; F, 6; mean age 68.5 years) were included in the trial. Mean baseline FEV1 was 0.921 and FVC 2.081. Six minutes unpaced walking distance on flat ground (WD) and Brog dyspnoea index scale (BS) were used as working indices. Baseline mean WD was 467.9 m, and median BS 3.2. No significant difference was found in the effect of terbutaline compared to placebo on the spirometry findings or WD. However, BS during exercise improved significantly on the terbutaline day. No significant correlation was found between changes in working indices and change in spirometry. Thus, the use of exercise testing and dyspnoea-scoring may reveal patients who benefit from acute bronchodilation without significant improvement in lung function.