I can’t say I’ve ever put much thought into the way I breathe until recently when I started learning more about it. We really take our breath for granted! Breathing keeps us alive, but it can also aid in coping with anxiety and managing stress, and it turns out, the literal way that we inhale and exhale has an impact on our overall health. You might notice that some people tend to breathe through their nose, while others breathe through their mouth, or both. Unfortunately, mouth breathing can have negative effects on our health, though there is a time and place for it. Let’s get into the science behind all of it.
Nose Breathing Benefits
You might think breathing through your nose is simply just one way to breathe, but it actually holds several benefits. Breathing through your nose filters out toxins and helps keep foreign substances out. Your nasal hairs play a big role in this because they prevent certain particles from entering the lungs, such as pollen, dust, and allergens, which keeps your immune system healthier. When you breathe in through your nose, it actually works as a humidifier, warming and moisturizing your inhaled air, so it’s easier on your lungs.
When you exhale through your nose, nitric oxide is produced, which helps increase and circulate the oxygen through your body and expands blood vessels. Nose breathing also helps you breathe more slowly, and lets your CO2 levels rise before exhaling. This is beneficial for exercise because it allows your body to go longer between breaths while working out.
Your anxiety and stress are greatly impacted by breathing, but it’s important to note that mouth breathing during an anxiety attack can cause hyperventilating, while nose breathing helps reduce stress.
Glen Park Dental lists the following benefits of breathing through your nose:
Improved memory and learning ability
Blood pressure regulation
Helps decrease and combat inflammation
Improves strength and endurance
Helps with weight loss efforts
Improves immune system and responses
Decreases risk of heart disease
Helps manage anxiety and depression
Impedes development of fine lines and wrinkles
How Nose Breathing Affects Your Sleep
The way you breathe while you sleep is also important. Breathing through your mouth can actually lead to issues such as snoring, insomnia, increased adrenaline (which can wake you up), and poor sleep quality. If you have a hard time controlling the way you breathe while you’re asleep, some people tape their mouths shut before bed to force their body to breathe through their nose. This may sound drastic, but if it works for you, the benefits will be worth it to help you get a better night’s rest.
The Negative Effects of Mouth Breathing
Based on the many benefits of nose breathing, you can probably assume some of the negative side effects of mouth breathing. Breathing through the mouth allows toxins and foreign particles to enter your lungs, it decreases oxygen levels, and changes the pH of your mouth. This can lead to oral issues such as dental decay, periodontal disease, bleeding gums, gingivitis, bad breath, cavities, or sensitive and shifting teeth.
Mouth breathing can also lead to premature aging. In a 2007 study, young adult female mouth breathers and nose breathers were compared to one another, and their facial features were evaluated. The study indicated that those who regularly breathed through their mouths had aged more than the nose breathers.
Why This Is Especially Important for Children
The negative effects of mouth breathing are especially significant in infants and children. Mouth breathing in young children can stunt growth and development, and decrease levels of growth hormones. It can change the position of their jawbone and the angle of their teeth. Another major issue with mouth breathing in children is that they can develop speech disorders. Specifically, they can develop a lisp, because of what's called “tongue thrust swallowing pattern.” This is when the tongue protrudes during speaking and swallowing, as a result of mouth breathing.
Orthodontic Practice US says that infants who rely on mouth breathing can develop (among other things) “a narrow maxilla, high-arched palate, and increased lower facial height and facial esthetics. This craniofacial pattern has been termed the ‘long-face syndrome’ and is associated with obstructive sleep apnea.”
The good news is, one way to help infants learn to naturally rely on nose breathing is breastfeeding. Statistically, children who are breastfed are more likely to become predominantly nose breathers, compared to a bottle-fed baby. Either way, if you notice a mouth breathing pattern in your child, try to correct it while they're still young to avoid issues later.
The Correct Time for Mouth Breathing
Now that I've told you all the horrors and complications of mouth breathing, I should add that there are certain times when it’s appropriate to breathe through your mouth. If you’re experiencing congestion, allergies, or a cold and your nasal cavities are blocked, it’s completely acceptable to breathe through your mouth (since the alternative is not breathing or barely breathing!). Or, if you’re doing intense exercise, there are nose-mouth breathing techniques to make the most of your workouts. For example, during strength training, exhale during exertions through the mouth.
Maybe this is your first time intentionally thinking about the way that you breathe. It won’t take you long to figure out if you’re a chronic mouth breather. Lucky for you, it’s never too late to change up your habits, it might just take some practice and awareness. Over time, you won’t have to think about how you’re breathing, and it will become natural.
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