Mouth Breathing & How it Can Affect Your Health
- Why is it Possible to Breathe Through Both Nose and Mouth?
- What Causes Mouth Breathing?
- Mouth Nose Breathing vs. Mouth Breathing
- The Effects of Mouth Breathing on Your Health
- How is Mouth Breathing Diagnosed?
- Mouth Breathing Treatment & Prevention
- The Misconception of Mouth Breathing
Why is it Possible to Breathe Through Both Nose and Mouth?
Humans can breathe through both the nose and the mouth because they are interconnected to some degree. When you breathe air through the nose it connects to the pharynx (throat). When you consume food, those pieces of apple are also passing through the pharynx. It is the epiglottis, a muscular flap located inside the pharynx that separates air and food. The epiglottis lifts to direct air to the lungs and drops down to direct food through the oesophagus and into your stomach.
This evolutionary system stops food and air to go down the wrong way, but it also gives you an alternative air passageway should your nasal passage every become blocked from a cold or illness. However, experts or medical professionals would tell you that breathing through the mouth is not good for your health in the long term.
Then why do some people still breathe through the mouth? If we can through breath both ways, why is breathing through the nose considered the proper way?
Read on to learn more…
What Causes Mouth Breathing?
There are two category classifications for people that breathe through their mouths, and it is identified as either obstructive or habitual.
- Obstructive: Obstructive mouth breathing is due to obstruction of the nasal cavity, nasopharynx, and oropharynx, forcing you to open the mouth to change the breathing pattern. These obstructions can be a combination of passageway constrictions due to sickness, swelling, excess mucus or even a physical object blocking the airway.
- Habitual: Habitual open-mouth breathing refers to the upper airway being open but still accustomed to open-mouth breathing. This can be caused by a disorder such as tonsillar hypertrophy or physical changes to the TMJ (temporal-mandibular joint) structure and periarticular muscle groups, which causes open mouth breathing to become habitual. It can also just be you being behaviourally comfortable to breathe through the mouth.
Mouth Nose Breathing vs. Mouth Breathing
Why is Breathing Through the Nose Considered the Correct Way?
I know what you’re thinking, we have two ways to breathe, but why is the nose better? From an evolutionary standpoint the nose was designed for breathing. The nose has three features that makes it far superior to the mouth.
- Temperature Control: Your lung has an optimal temperature that is preferred by your lungs. Air that enters your lungs are first cooled or warmed in the nasal passage and then goes through the trachea. This temperature control allows oxygen to be absorbed effectively. Think about how difficult it is when you try to breathe in cold air. This is because cold air causes the passageway to narrow.
- Pollutants & Dust Filtration: The cilia or nose hair inside your nose plays an important part in filtering out harmful germs, debris, or dust. Mucus produced inside these passageways trap these foreign particles to decrease the risk of illness. Both aid in filtering things away from your lungs and toward your throat.
- Moisture Retention: The moisture environment and temperature within the nose passage is better maintained due to its unique shape. It is a highly vascularised area of the human body, which means that there is a lot warmer blood carried to the surface by arteries and other blood vessels. The warmth in the nasal cavity increases air temperature and humidity so that it is at a degree of warmness that is acceptable to the lungs for optimal intake efficiency.
Mucus in the nose is mainly composed of water, proteins and molecules that control germs, but it
also helps to keep the nose passage stay moist.
The Effects of Mouth Breathing on Your Health
Mouth breathing can have a significant impact on our overall health. Some of the most common effects include:
- Dry mouth and dry throat. Mouth breathing is incredibly drying, saliva cannot remove microorganisms from the mouth, thus causing other symptoms and cracked lips.
- Increased risk of respiratory infections. It is generally known that the spot where inhaled infections deposit within a person’s airway has a significant impact on both the severity of the disease and its ability to spread. Without the filtering effect of nose cilia, the infectious germ and the floating debris are inhaled directly into our lungs and increase the risk of respiratory infections to a noticeable extent.
- Facial abnormalities or deformities. Especially in children, untreated mouth breathing can lead to “adenoid face” or “long face syndrome”. Although the severity of facial abnormalities varies from child to child, the face of a mouth breather usually has tired eyes, a deviated nasal septum, a narrow face, a receding chin, a small airway, and poor posture of the neck and shoulders.
- Sleep disorders, sleep apnea, and ADHD. Anyone who breathes through their mouth at night will have poorer sleep and quality of life. Nocturnal mouth breathing in adults can lead to snoring, obstructive sleep apnea hypoventilation syndrome (OSAHS) and daytime fatigue and sluggishness, while in children it often leads to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) due to overcompensation.
- Dental problems and periodontal disease. The tongue is in a low, downward position during mouth breathing, and this abnormal tongue position can lead to crooked teeth, poor bite, and periodontal disease.
- Postural problems and muscle fatigue. Mouth breathing tends to extend the head forward to improve ventilation. This poor posture can lead to neck pain, TMJ tightness, disc compression, early arthritis, tension headaches, and dental bite problems.
- Reduces the production of nitric oxide (NO). Enzymes in the nose and sinuses produce NO, which is inhaled into the lungs and circulated into the bloodstream. NO dilates blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow; regulates inflammatory responses and prevents thrombosis; provides immune defense, enhances memory and learning; promotes erectile function, protects the skin, regulates the bladder, improves bowel function, promotes weight loss, reduces pain, protects the skin, and relieves anxiety and depression. Low nitric oxide due to mouth breathing can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, erectile dysfunction, and digestive problems, among other diseases.
- Speech disorders. Mouth-breathing children often have speech problems such as slurred speech and dysarthria due to tongue-putting.
- Height problems. Prolonged mouth breathing can lead to poor sleep quality, reduced night-time growth hormone production, and affect height.
How is Mouth Breathing Diagnosed?
By performing a physical examination and looking for any issues that can impair you or your child’s ability to breathe via their nose, healthcare professionals can help correct mouth breathing habits. They might also inquire about your sleeping pattern. Mouth breathing can also be diagnosed in the following ways:
- Cotton Wool Method or Fog Mirror Test: Use a cotton wool wire or small mirror placed in front of the child’s nostrils and outside the mouth respectively. Check to see if the cotton wool floats or if there is fog on the mirror surface. Based on the cotton wool’s ability to float or the amount of fog on the mirror surface, you can roughly estimate the child’s nasal and oral breathing status.
- Closed-Lip Test: Completely seal the mouth of the awake child with adhesive tape for 3 minutes, or gently purse the lips of a sleeping child. If the child can breathe normally or continue to sleep peacefully, this indicates that the child's airway is essentially open and that the open-mouth breathing is habitual; if the child has trouble breathing, this indicates that there is an obstruction in the upper airway.
- Water Test: Holding a sip of water in your mouth to see if you can still breathe regularly. If you can, this indicates that nasal breathing is functioning normally, and mouth breathing is habitual. If breathing becomes difficult, nasal breathing obstruction is likely to be the cause, which necessitates further diagnosis and treatment.
Mouth Breathing Treatment & Prevention
For obstructive mouth breathing, procedures such as tonsil adenoidectomy, correction of deviated nasal septum, inferior turbinate ablation, and nasal polyp removal are chosen depending on the cause. If mouth breathing is caused by a cold, sinusitis, or allergic rhinitis, medications can be chosen to relieve the symptoms.
For habitual mouth breathing, there can be several methods as follows:
- Perioral movement method: Train the oral muscles, popping the tongue, closing the mouth, circular movement of the tongue, of which closing the mouth is the most important, each action at least 60 to 80 times, preferably 100 times, for the best result.
- Water breathing method: Practice holding a small mouthful of water and slowly train the nose to breathe. This exercise should be noted that children may choke at first, so parents should slowly and patiently accompany the practice.
- Orthodontic method: Orthodontic methods change the position of teeth, such as buck teeth, it is difficult to close the mouth, and habitual breathing with the mouth. So, through orthodontics change the shape of the face so that it is easier to close the mouth to breathe.
- Training of the Oral & Facial Muscles: Such as the upper lip, tongue, and cheek muscles, and aerobic breathing exercises with the child's mouth closed as a way to develop normal nasal breathing habits.
- Lip Muscle Function Training: To enhance lip muscle function and strength by pursuing the mouth, blowing soap bubbles, and playing musical instruments.
The Misconception of Mouth Breathing
As more people pay attention to mouth breathing, many people are trying to correct the bad habit of mouth breathing by themselves. Mouth tapes become the bestseller, it is a physical method that sticks your lips together, forcing them to shut their mouth and breathe through the nose only. There are also lots of positive comments and reviews, such as “snoring less” “I don’t sleep with my mouth open anymore” or "changed my bad habit” ......
Realise that mouth breathing is an abnormal condition and needs to be taken seriously. But mouth breathing is merely a symptom, what really needs to be concerned is the disease that lies at the root of the symptom. Otherwise, someone with mouth breathing caused by nasal blockage, rhinitis, and adenoid hypertrophy is likely to suffer from oxygen deprivation or even suffocation when their mouths are sealed.
Mouth breathing may seem like a harmless habit, but it can actually have a great impact on our overall health. If you are struggling with mouth breathing, it is important to identify the underlying cause and seek treatment as soon as possible. By breathing through your nose and taking steps to improve your nasal health, you can improve your overall well-being and reduce your risk of serious health problems.