Introduction to Mouth Breathing
There are 2 air passages to our lungs – the mouth and nose. It is quite normal to use both your nose and mouth to breath. Mouth breathing alone should only happen if you have nasal congestion due to a cold or allergies. When you exercise, the best way to get oxygen to your muscles faster is by mouth breathing so you may notice when you do something strenuous, you breathe through your mouth.
Why is it Best to Breathe through the Nose?
To aid the lungs ability to absorb oxygen, the nose produces nitric oxide. Nitric oxide increases the ability to transport oxygen throughout the body. Nitric acid is an anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-parasitic and anti-bacterial. It also helps the immune system fight infections.
How can I tell if I’m Breathing through my Mouth?
If we have been mouth breathing for a long time, it may be so natural that we don’t know we are doing it. It’s impossible to know whether we breathe through the mouth at night too. These symptoms may indicate mouth breathing:
- Dry Mouth
- Bad Breath/halitosis
- Always tired
- Foggy Brain
- Dark circles round the eyes
What Causes Mouth Breathing?
Most mouth breathing is caused by issues in the nasal passages. The nasal airway may be partially or completely blocked. So what causes a blocked nose?
- Nasal congestion (allergies, cold or sinus infection)
- Enlarged tonsils
- Enlarged adenoids
- Nasal polyps or small benign growths of tissue in the nasal lining
- The shape of your nose
- Size and shape of the jaw
- Obstructive Sleep apnea (medical condition where breathing stops involuntarily for short periods of time)
- Tumours (rare)
Mouth breathing may just become a habit for some people after the nasal obstruction has cleared. With sleep apnea, sufferers will sleep with their mouth open because of their need for oxygen.
Stress is also another cause of mouth breathing. Stress and anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system which leads to rapid, shallow and abnormal breathing. If the stress is temporary, normal nasal breathing will return.
What Conditions increase my chance of Mouth Breathing?
- Chronic allergies
- Chronic or returning sinus infections
- Chronic stress
How is Mouth Breathing Diagnosed?
Dentist. During a routine dental check up, if you have bad breath, frequent cavities or gum disease your dentist may diagnose mouth breathing. If he/she notices nasal polyps or swollen tonsils, this also may indicate mouth breathing,
Doctor. Whilst examining the nostrils or an investigation into persistent nasal congestion. The Doctor may ask you about difficulty breathing, sleep issues, snoring, sinus problems.
You may be referred to an ENT (Ear Nose and Throat) Doctor for further investigations.
What Health Problems does Mouth Breathing Cause?
A dry mouth is the result of mouth breathing. Saliva is a great antibacterial but if the mouth is dry, then bacteria can thrive. Dry mouth can lead to:
- Bad breath
- Gum disease
- Ear and throat infections
Breathing through your mouth can also result in there being less oxygen in the blood and this is associated with high blood pressure and heart failure. Some studies have shown that asthma sufferers that breathe through the mouth find their symptoms worsen.
How can I stop Mouth Breathing?
Finding the cause is the key.
If you have nasal congestion then you can speak to your Doctor or pharmacist to recommend some medication. You may either have a cold or allergies. If you have allergies then it would be best to find out what you are allergic to. Again, your Doctor can help you further.
If obstructive sleep apnea is the issue, your Doctor will make some recommendations which may include wearing a face mask/appliance at night.
How can I prevent Mouth Breathing?
There are some issues that might not be able to prevent or stop mouth breathing. For example; the shape of your nose or face.
If your nasal passages are constantly blocked then you need to find the cause of that. Taking medication will address the symptoms but not the cause.
Here are some other tips:
- Practice breathing through your nose only and then correct yourself when you find you are mouth breathing
- Sleep on your back with your head elevated, this will open up the airways to help nasal breathing
- Use medication such as saline nasal sprays, decongestants or antihistamines when you first suffer the symptoms of a cold or allergy/hayfever.
- Try and keep your environment as dust and allergy free as possible.
- If stress is the cause of your mouth breathing and the cause of your stress remains, then find a release. Yoga or meditation will help you slow down and focus your breathing.