Inspiratory muscle strength most often is better reflected by sniff Pes than PImax against occlusion. Furthermore, sniff Pes can be estimated noninvasively by the measurement of sniff Pmo in normal subjects and in patients with respiratory muscle weakness. The aim of this study was to compare sniff Pmo and P.PImax to assess inspiratory muscle strength in patients with acute respiratory failure. The highest pressure was produced by P.PImax in 61 percent of measurements, and by sniff Pmo in 39 percent. Above 35 cm H2O P.PImax yielded the highest pressure in 55 percent of cases and the ratio sniff Pmo/P.PImax was 1.20 +/- 0.54. Below 35 cm H2O, P.PImax yielded the highest pressure in 75 percent of cases and the ratio sniff Pmo/P.PImax was 0.76 +/- 0.35 (p less than 0.02). Thus, measurements of sniff Pmo and P.PImax complement one another for assessing inspiratory muscle strength. However, sniff Pmo underestimates inspiratory muscle strength in patients with severe inspiratory muscle weakness.