Dr. Magdy Badran
You very likely breathe without thinking about it. Your body does it automatically, without much, if any conscious effort on your behalf.
In general, it’s healthier to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth. That’s because nose breathing is more natural and helps your body effectively use the air you inhale.
It’s estimated that between 10% and 25% of children and about 30-50% adults breathe through their mouth, especially earlier in the day. Humans evolved mouth breathing as a survival technique — it keeps our breaths going as we eat with our mouths, so we don’t choke.
Chronic mouth breathing may be associated with illness. The Advantages of Nose Breathing Since your nose was specifically designed to help you breathe, nasal breathing has many advantages.
Nose breathing is beneficial primarily because it allows your nasal cavities to: reduce exposure to foreign substances, filters toxins, humidify and warm inhaled air, increase air flow to arteries, veins, and nerves, increase oxygen uptake and circulation, slow down breathing, improve lung volume, help your diaphragm work properly, lower your risk of allergies and hay fever, reduce your risk of coughing, aid your immune system, lower your risk of snoring and sleep apnoea and support the correct formation of teeth and mouth. Your nose can smell harmful substances in the air or your food. Your mouth can’t find these toxins as effectively.
Types of Mouth Breathing Mouth Breathing is classified into three types: obstructive, habitual, and anatomic.
Obstructive mouth breathing is seen in people with an increased resistance to or a complete obstruction of the normal flow of air through the nasal passages.
Habitual mouth breathing is seen in a person who continually breathes through the mouth by force of habit, although the obstruction has been removed. Anatomical mouth breathing is seen in a case with a short upper lip that does not permit closure without undue effort.
Risk Factors for Mouth Breathing Anyone can develop a habit of breathing through their mouth, but certain conditions increase your risk. These include: chronic allergies, hay fever, chronic or recurring sinus infections, asthma, chronic stress and anxiety.
Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system leading to shallow, rapid and abnormal breathing. Causes of Mouth Breathing Nasal obstruction (the partial or complete blockage of your nasal airways) is a common reason for mouth breathing.
If your nose is blocked, the body automatically resorts to the only other source that can provide oxygen — your mouth. There are many causes of a blocked nose. These include: nasal congestion caused by allergies, a cold, or a sinus infection, enlarged adenoids, enlarged tonsils, deviated septum, nasal polyps, or benign growths of tissue in the lining of your nose, enlarged turbinates, the shape of the nose, the shape and size of the jaw and tumors (rare). Some people develop a habit of breathing through their mouth instead of their nose even after the nasal obstruction clears. For some people with sleep apnea, it may become a habit to sleep with their mouth open to accommodate their need for oxygen. Birth abnormalities, such as choanal atresia, cleft palate, or Pierre Robin syndrome can cause oral breathing.
Symptoms of Mouth Breathing Many people don’t realize they are breathing through their mouth instead of their nose, especially if it happens when they are sleeping.
However, some of the symptoms that relate to mouth breathing can include: snoring, a dry mouth, bad breath (halitosis), brain fog, waking up tired and irritable, chronic fatigue, sleep disorders like insomnia, dark circles under the eyes, a slightly open-mouthed appearance, malocclusion (upper and lower teeth don’t align) and being a noisy eater.
Dental problems: Mouth breathing can cause poor positioning of the jaw. This may lead to jaw pain, grinding of the teeth, and an irregular bite that may need correcting.
Hoarseness: Mouth breathing can dry out the airways, causing a person to have a hoarse-sounding voice. Speech changes: Mouth breathing is associated with greater risk for a speech condition known as a lisp.
A lisp affects a person’s ability to say the letter “s,” making the letter sound more like “th” when spoken. Symptoms in Children Children who are mouth breathers will breathe with their mouth open and often snore at night. But unlike adults, children can often not communicate their symptoms, so it’s important that parents look for the signs. In addition to the above, these include: irritability, problems concentrating at school, increasing crying episodes at night and dry, cracked lips. According to one study, an estimated 50.9 percent of children identified as mouth breathing had a strong mouth odor.
Children may have more serious symptoms. Mouth breathing can affect children’s facial development, causing what’s called “mouth breathing face”. People who have mouth breathing face often have narrowed faces with receding chins or jaws. A child who has experienced mouth breathing for some time will often have an overbite.
The technical term for this jaw position is retrognathic. Studies show some children with mouth breathing develop behavioral problems that are similar to problems found with children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Complications of Mouth Breathing Breathing through your mouth can dry out your gums and the tissue that lines your mouth.
This can change the natural bacteria in the mouth, leading to gum disease or tooth decay. Complications caused by mouth breathing can include: higher incidence of snoring and sleep apnea, problems with jaw joints, speech and swallowing difficulties, teeth that do not fit together properly due to an affected bite, enlarged tonsils and adenoids and worsening of asthma symptoms.
Children with the mouth-breathing pattern experience a greater negative impact on quality of life in comparison with those with the nose-breathing pattern.
Prevention Tips The early diagnosis and treatment of mouth breathing are fundamental to minimizing the consequences of it on the quality of life. For example, you might need to take allergy medicine, or if you have sleep apnea, your doctor will suggest treatments based on how mild or severe your case is.
Try to lose excess weight, avoid alcohol and certain sleeping pills, use special pillows, or take medication for sinus disease. Practice breathing in and out through your nose. Keep your nose clean. Reduce stress so you don’t gasp for air with your mouth. Use a larger pillow to prop your head up when you sleep.
For more intense cases, you might need to wear a special mask over your nose or mouth while you sleep. Nose breathing exercises may help improve your nose breathing.
These techniques may also help enhance your lung function, increase respiratory muscle strength, and relieve stress and anxiety. Alternate nostril breathing is a common breathing exercise used in yoga. In this technique, you inhale through one nostril and exhale through the other, while using your finger to close the opposite nostril.
The exercise requires focus, so it’s great for increasing mindfulness. It may also help enhance your lung function and decrease stress. Belly breathing is also known as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing. It involves taking slow, deep breaths in through your nose.
The goal is to breathe deep enough to fill your belly with air. This increases how much oxygen you take in, and may help slow down your breathing and heart rate. Belly breathing also increases mindfulness and reduces stress. Skull shining breath, is an exercise used in yoga.
It involves quick, strong exhalations and normal inhalations. The technique may help improve respiratory function by engaging your respiratory muscles and diaphragm. It might also help boost your concentration and focus.