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Why mouth breathing is bad for your health...

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

My nose does not look perfect. In fact, it’s probably a bit big for my face and there’s a hump! BUT it is perfect for my breathing and that’s waaaayyyy more important……..I am DEFINITELY not googling non-surgical nose jobs right now.

Don’t get me wrong, your mouth is great for eating, speaking and stepping up to the breathing plate when your nose is blocked or you’re exercising hard but it’s not for breathing full time. Unless of course you have a medical condition or anatomical abnormality preventing you from doing so but I’ll come back to that.

Mouth breathing, other than not looking that great (catching flies anyone?), can cause plenty of undesirable outcomes:

  • Bad breath – so not cool

  • Snoring and sleep apnoea – rubbish sleep plus annoying everyone in your house

  • Upper chest breathing – which is really inefficient

  • Crooked teeth – nobody wants this

  • Changes to your jaw and face shape - not in a good way

  • Difficulty co-ordinating speech – mouth breathing, ruining public speaking and your latest Instagram post one breath at a time

  • Dry, irritable cough, or constant throat clearing

  • More seriously it can change your biochemistry and biomechanics - bye bye carbon dioxide, hello nasty dysfunctional breathing symptoms such as: anxiety, neck, jaw or back pain, brain fog fatigue, poor endurance, air hunger, breathlessness, cold hands and feet, reflux, palpitations, chest pain, rubbish posture and the list goes on.........

All because you mouth breathe!

So, what makes the nose so brilliant at breathing? Cottle, a well-regarded nose doctor, suggests that the nose has 30 different functions. THIRTY! It’s not just a mound in the middle of your face…….flicks back to non-surgical nose job tab.

Here are a few highlights

The nose preps the air for the lungs. It cleans, warms and wets the air. The holy trinity. Just how the lungs like it. The lungs don’t like dirty, dry, cold air so if you want happy lungs use your nose. I’ve met so many people who report symptoms such as wheeze or breathlessness when they encounter a noxious stimulus such as cold air. Using simple breathing retraining techniques which encourage nose breathing at smaller volumes can really make a difference. Asthmatics, your airways can be a bit temperamental so treat them well. Close that mouth and breathe gently through your nose.

For people who struggle with airway secretions due to a lung condition it is vital that you nose breathe. To clear secretions effectively they need to be as loose as possible. If you’re mouth breathing the air is cold and dry resulting in thicker, stickier secretions. The little hair like structures, known as cilia, which help clear your airways become less effective and the sputum stuck in your lungs reduces how well you get oxygen into your blood stream. Make sure you’re hydrated, and nose breathe, always.

Nose breathing increases air resistance by about 50% compared to mouth breathing and this resistance is estimated to result on 10-20% greater oxygen uptake. More oxygen is always good! This resistance also increases the expiratory (breathing out) phase of the respiratory cycle and it is well known that a longer expiratory phase helps to relax and calm the body.

When you think of ‘good breathing’ you should automatically think of the diaphragm. Tummy, abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing is efficient, effective, and relaxing. The diaphragm is meant for breathing so the upper chest, unless exercising really hard, is not required.

By nose breathing you are more likely to be using your diaphragm. Mouth breathing usually equals upper chest breathing. Try taking a deep breath in through your mouth. I bet your upper chest moved up and out. Little diaphragm movement. This way of breathing also makes you feel on edge by readying your body for action, you’re in flight or fight mode. Not the calming effect we all desire. So, when you’re taking deep breaths to calm down think nose and diaphragm! A deep breath not a big breath!

The last nose job (pun intended) that I want to mention is its ability to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator (opens up the blood vessels) and bronchodilator (opens up the airways) which allows for a greater uptake of oxygen and plays an important for cardiovascular health. If you’re a tight chested or wheezy person what better reason to nose breathe?!

Wow! The nose is clearly amazing and forms the basis of good breathing, but what if you can’t breathe through your nose?

Some people have a medical reason why nose breathing isn’t possible but these people are few and far between. Just because you find it difficult to start nose breathing doesn’t mean you physically can’t. It’s important to establish the reason first. I can’t recommend which of the following routes to take without assessing you but here are a few suggestions on how to unblock your nose.

First just practice using your nose. Many people find that the more you use your nose the less blocked it becomes. If you don't use it you lose it!

Many people find nasal rinsing helpful. You can find kits in a pharmacy - a bottle and a sachet of rock salt and bicarbonate. Mix it up as per the instructions and away you go. Alternatively, you can make a homemade version, but be sure to use rock salt as table salt has additives and it stings a bit!! Once you have your bottle and your mixture you gently pour into your nose to clear your nasal passages. Easy!

If you believe you have a condition which needs medical intervention have a chat with your pharmacist or GP, they may recommend a nasal spray or review some of your current medications as they can be the culprit. In some cases antibiotics are required.

Be careful of over the counter nasal sprays. These should be used for no more than 5 days. Prolonged use can cause rebound effects - in other words, make it worse.

Sometimes you need an ear, nose and throat doctor. These guys are the professionals and are available to help those who need a specialist review or surgical intervention.

Don’t be worried about going to seek help. You’re not wasting anyone’s time. After all, if your hand or eyes stopped working you wouldn’t hesitate to go and seek advice!

How do you get started?

Practise. Practise. Practise. It can take a while to re-establish nose breathing. Find a comfortable spot where you can lie down – this can be flat or semi-reclined on your back. Just make sure you’re relaxed.

Start with one or two nose breaths. If it feels comfortable carry on for a few minutes. Focus on your breath. If your mind wanders come back to your breath. Slowly in, slowly out. Your tummy should be rising as you breathe in. Your chest should be still.

If you can manage 3-5 minutes of nose breathing that’s great! You can take a break at any point and once you feel able to do so go back to nose breathing. This process will take some time but keep going until you nose breathe ALL of the time - except high level exercise.

If it feels like you can’t get enough air in try to slow down the breath in and out. Stay calm. Your breathing should be quiet. If it’s noisy your nose may be a little blocked or you’re taking too big a breath.

If you are too uncomfortable return to your normal breathing. Stay calm. It’s just the added resistance from your nose, you have enough air. Once you feel back to normal try another few nose breaths. Repeat this 4 or 5 times if possible, aiming to increase the number of nose breaths you can manage by at least one or two by the end of your practice.

Twice daily sessions are recommended but I would suggest that every hour you think ‘am I nose breathing?’ and just have quick check in. Before you know it you’ll be nose breathing without even thinking about it.

Final thoughts……Nose breathing is the starting point for good breathing. Poor breathing habits can cause a whole host of problems from back pain to reflux to exhaustion to brain fog to air hunger!

So, if you want to help your health and control your breath, get that nose unblocked and shut your mouth! It’ll change how you breathe and how you feel forever.

Breathe well!

Kelly 😊

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