Carbon dioxide (CO2) rebreathing has been recognised as a concern regarding respirator use and is related to symptoms of discomfort, fatigue, dizziness, headache, muscular weakness and drowsiness. Previous investigations are limited by small sample size and have not evaluated the relationship between CO2 inhalation and phonic respiration (breathing during speech) in respiratory protective devices (RPDs). A total of 40 workers trained in the use of RPDs performed a graded exercise test on a cycle ergonometer that increased in workload every 5 min. During the third minute of each stage, participants read aloud a prepared text. Measures of mixed expired CO2 (PECO2), mixed inspired CO2 (PICO2) and respiration were monitored. The results showed that phonic respiration and low work rates contributed to significantly higher levels of CO2 rebreathing. Aiming to reduce CO2 exposure may result in improved wear time of RPDs. It is recommended that these findings be incorporated in technical specifications regarding human factors for RPDs.
Practitioner summary: Carbon dioxide (CO2) rebreathing in respiratory protective devices (RPDs) has been highlighted as a key concern regarding respirator use. However, the problem is relatively under researched. This paper presents novel findings on the impact of phonic respiration (breathing during speech) and CO2 concentrations in RPDs.