We evaluated the use of pressure support to compensate for the added inspiratory work of breathing due to the resistances of endotracheal tubes and a ventilator demand-valve system for continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP). A mechanical model was used to simulate spontaneous breathing at five respiratory rates through 7-mm, 8-mm, and 9-mm endotracheal tubes with and without a ventilator demand CPAP circuit. Added work was measured as the integral of the product of airway pressure and volume during inspiration. Additional work was a function of the tube's size, and each 1-mm decrease in the tube's diameter resulted in a 67 to 100 percent increase in work. Adding the ventilator CPAP circuit further increased work and was responsible for 30 to 50 percent of the total work resulting from a tube and CPAP circuit together. Pressure support was added to a level at which net work on the airway was zero, and a relationship between mean inspiratory flow (VT/TI) and the optimal level of pressure support was established for each endotracheal tube. The inspiratory work of breathing was then measured in normal subjects breathing with and without each endotracheal tube plus the demand CPAP circuit. Work per liter of minute ventilation due to the endotracheal tube and CPAP circuit was increased from 54 to 240 percent over levels measured while breathing through an open airway. For each endotracheal tube and VT/TI, a level of pressure support (range, 2 to 20 cm H2O) was found which eliminated added work in the spontaneously breathing subject. This level correlated well with that predicted from the data derived using the mechanical model. We conclude that when adjusting for an endotracheal tube's diameter and VT/TI, pressure support can be used to compensate for the added inspiratory work due to artificial airway resistances.