Is Mouth Breathing Really That Bad?

While most healthy people use both their mouth and nose to breathe, using only the mouth can cause a few health concerns.

Illustration shows breathing lungs and mouth breathing.

The human body has two passageways that supply air to the lungs—the mouth and the nose. While most healthy people use both their mouth and nose to breathe, using only the mouth can cause a few health concerns.

Breathing through your mouth

If you have a cold or allergies, you might find that you have to breathe through your mouth due to nasal congestion. When you engage in a strenuous workout, you may also breathe through your mouth as it allows for a faster flow of oxygen to the muscles.

However, if you constantly breathe through your mouth instead of your nose, you may experience gum disease or bad breath. In children, mouth breathing has been linked to facial deformities, slow growth, and crooked teeth.

Related: Why It’s Important to Care for Your Teeth and Gums

You may not realize that you’re breathing through your mouth, particularly if you do so while you sleep. Some of the symptoms of mouth breathing at night include:

  • Bad breath
  • Dry mouth and/or sore throat
  • Snoring
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating or brain fog
  • Darkened circles beneath the eyes
  • Hoarseness

Children may not have the same symptoms if they breathe through their mouths. As mentioned, some young mouth breathers experience slower growth rates. Other symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Crying episodes at night
  • Cracked or dry lips
  • Sleepiness during the daytime
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Enlarged tonsils

Mouth breathing causes

A more common cause of mouth breathing is an obstructed airway, which can happen when you come down with an ailment that causes nasal congestion. Other causes of nasal congestion include enlarged tonsils or adenoids, nasal polyps, enlarged turbinates, and a deviated septum.

The shape of your nose may also play a role in how well air can pass through the airway. A physician can diagnose any of these health conditions and determine a course of treatment that will allow you to breathe more freely through the nose.

Interestingly enough, your mental health state may impact the way you breathe. When you’re feeling anxious or stressed, you might breathe through your mouth due to the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This reaction often leads to abnormal, rapid, or shallow breathing.

Advantages of breathing through your nose

Breathing through your nose comes with a few key advantages. The human nose produces nitric oxide, which helps your lungs to absorb oxygen more efficiently. Nitric oxide is also important in the transport of oxygen throughout the body, including to the heart.

When it is produced naturally, it helps the blood vessels to dilate and relaxes the smooth muscles in your heart for improved absorption of oxygen. Nitric oxide also has antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic, and antiviral properties, which means it can help your immune system function more efficiently.

In addition to producing nitric oxide, the act of breathing through your nose can help filter out tiny particles in the air you breathe. When cold air passes through the nostrils, it’s warmed slightly before it reaches the lungs.

Your nose can also add moisture to dry air, reducing irritation to the lungs and bronchial tubes. As you breathe through your nose, the action naturally adds resistance to the stream of air, which boosts the elasticity of the lungs and increases the oxygen uptake.

How to lessen mouth breathing

The cause of your mouth breathing will impact the treatment plan. If you breathe through your mouth because your nose is constantly blocked, your healthcare provider may recommend a nasal decongestant, steroid nasal spray, or antihistamine to reduce the inflammation.

If you have a sleep problem, such as obstructive sleep apnea, treating that condition can reduce the need to breathe through your mouth. In children, the removal of swollen tonsils and adenoids might improve mouth breathing.

Related: What You Need to Know About Sleep Apnea

If you’re dealing with the effects of mouth breathing, try to focus on breathing through your nose when you’re awake. Consult with your healthcare provider if the problem doesn’t resolve on its own.

Related Articles