Are You A Mouth Breather? Here’s How To Fix That
Published | 6 min read
Being a mouth breather might not seem like a big deal, but it can lead to health complications. Here's why you're doing it and how to breathe through your nose at night again.
Being a mouth
It might sound strange to breathe through your mouth rather than your nose, but some people do it without even knowing it.
Read on to find out why it’s important to restore your breathing to its appropriate state – and why you could be breathing through your mouth in the first place.
Mouth Breather vs. Nose Breather: What’s The Difference?
As humans, it’s natural to breathe through our noses. We do it subconsciously, and it’s second nature to us.
Our trachea (a tube that connects your voice box to your lungs) also shares a passageway with the esophagus (a tube connecting your mouth to the stomach), which means we can also breathe through our mouth.
We sometimes take in air through our mouths when we require more air, for example, when we exercise or have a blocked nose. However, the nose is most suitably designed for breathing.
When we breathe through our nose, a sophisticated filtration system kicks in. The tiny hairs inside our nostrils filter out dust and insects, preventing them from making their way in. A moist lining of mucus also helps trap particles and other allergens.
Meanwhile, the mouth is the beginning of our digestive system. Air taken through the mouth isn’t filtered for harmful or obstructive particles. Breathing dusty air through the mouth, for example, could cause you to feel uncomfortable and cough.
Controlling temperature and humidity
Even the freshest air you breathe must be conditioned before entering your lungs. There are folds in your nose called turbinates that warm and moisten the air you breathe. Breathing in air through your mouth feels less comfortable and will be drier as it’ll affect saliva flow.
Communicating with the brain
You also have specialized nerve cells in your nose that communicate smells to your brain. These cells detect molecules in the air that enter your nostrils. Nerve signals from the cells tell your brain what the smell is, including whether it’s pleasant.
This helps you determine whether a scent might be harmful or poisonous. These cells are also essential for sustenance because recognizing (and enjoying) the smell of food is important for appetite.
Your mouth also has specialized nerve cells housed in your taste buds. However, these cells detect taste, temperature, and texture – not smell.
Being A Mouth Breather: Causes And Effects
Mouth breathing results in some unsavory effects. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Vong U Chan reveals that some short-term effects of mouth breathing include dry mouth, chronic bad breath, tooth decay, and mouth ulcers.
It also has long-term consequences that can affect your respiratory health. Obstructive sleep apnea is one condition that can develop from mouth breathing. In TCM, a person will experience fatigue and lack energy and focus. “Breathing through the mouth results in taking in less oxygen. This can affect sleep quality and energy levels,” explains Physician Vong.
Children who are mouth breathers can develop a “mouth breathing face,” a narrow facial structure with a receding chin and jaws. The receding jaws can also lead to malocclusion when the upper and lower teeth don’t align.
Says Physician Vong, “This affects children’s development as the facial structure (a narrowed dental arch) results in insufficient space for the full set of adult teeth. Orthodontic treatment is required to correct it.”
Why am I a mouth breather?
Mouth breathing indicates issues such as nasal congestion (caused by allergies, colds, or chronic sinusitis) or anxiety manifested in shallow breathing. Over time, this inability to breathe properly can lead to a compromised respiratory system.
Other causes could be structural. In small children, enlarged adenoid glands can obstruct breathing and lead to mouth-breathing. The septum is a piece of bone and cartilage that divides your nose into your two nostrils. It can block the airways if it deviates to one side, making you resort to mouth breathing.
Treatments If You’re A Mouth Breather
With structural issues, surgery may be the only option. However, nasal congestion caused by respiratory tract issues can be addressed without surgery.
Over-the-counter nasal decongestants like pseudoephedrine can help give temporary relief. Antihistamines like loratadine that help with allergies can also reduce nasal symptoms that lead to congestion.
Feeling anxious and stressed can cause people to breathe through their mouth instead of their nose, as it activates the sympathetic nervous system. This leads to shallow, rapid, and abnormal breathing.
To remedy this, Physician Vong says, “TCM can treat through acupuncture and herbal medication to better help a person relax and cope with their stress and anxiety.”
For longer-lasting and systemic improvement of nasal congestion, TCM has some solutions. In 2015, researchers at the University Hospital Dresden in Germany studied acupuncture and loratadine use for nasal allergy symptoms.
Common acupoints she recommends are ying xiang (LI20), he gu, (LI4), and feng chi (GB20) to clear nasal congestion.
Herbs for respiratory health
In 2019, the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine published the results of a large study in Taiwan. Children treated with Chinese herbal medicine like Cang Er San and Xin Yi San had a 29% reduction in the risk of hospitalization due to asthma.
TCM also offers formulations containing herbs that help strengthen the Lungs for respiratory health. A 2021 review in the Journal of Ginseng Research concluded that the most known
Using orthotics and exercises, myofunctional therapy helps strengthen airway muscles and improve nasal breathing to help with sleep disorders.
These include snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. Many exercises also help with mouth breathing, such as the cheek hook and alternate nostril breathing exercises.
When deciding on nose breathing vs mouth breathing, the former is what we’re designed to do. Mouth breathing is not functionally part of the respiratory system and, if done for an extended period, can lead to health issues. It’s crucial to detect mouth breathing and correct it early.
- Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Nose. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/21778-nose>
- Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Mouth Breathing. [online] Available at: <https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22734-mouth-breathing>
- Cleveland Clinic. 2020. Should I Breathe Through My Mouth or Through My Nose? [online] Available at: <https://health.clevelandclinic.org/breathe-mouth-nose/>
- Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. 2019. Long-term use of Chinese herbal medicine therapy reduced the risk of asthma hospitalization in school-age children: A nationwide population-based cohort study in Taiwan. [online] Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7109476/>
- Journal of Ginseng Research. 2020. Ginseng alleviates microbial infections of the respiratory tract: a review. [online] Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1226845319303264>
- Healthcare Medicine Institute. 2015. Acupuncture Soothes Allergies & Sinus. [online] Available at: <https://www.healthcmi.com/Acupuncture-Continuing-Education-News/1420-acupuncture-soothes-allergies-sinus>
- SleepFoundation.org. 2022. Mouth And Throat Exercises to Help Stop Snoring and Improve OSA. [online] Available at: <https://www.sleepfoundation.org/snoring/mouth-exercises-to-stop-snoring>
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