How often do you really consider your breathing patterns? Probably never.
It’s an automatic reaction – one you don’t have to think about for it to happen over and over and over again.
Typically unless you are congested from a cold or allergies, or perhaps suffer with an ongoing respiratory problem like asthma or COPD, you probably give very little thought to your breath.
Thank goodness too, right? Can you imagine having to consciously think about your breathing pattern to stay alive? We would have an average lifespan of a gnat!
But your subconscious breathing pattern plays a pretty significant role in your overall health status! So it might add years to your life to pay attention for just a few minutes a day.
In order for us to understand the key way our breath pattern influences our health, we need to understand the differences between nasal breathing and mouth breathing.
Anatomical Differences between Nasal Breathing and Mouth Breathing
When you breathe through your nose, the tiny little hairs inside your nose (called cilia) help to filter and humidify or cool the air as needed before the air enters your lungs. Those tiny hairs help to protect your body against airborne germs and microscopic foreign objects.
Mouth breathing bypasses the natural immune defense of the cilia hairs and allows all those particles direct access to your trachea (your “wind pipe”) and your lungs. The trachea is lined with mucous to offer an additional layer of protection for your lungs but this was designed as the backup security, not your only line of defense for your respiratory system!
Health Benefits of Nasal Breathing
- Decreases our body’s stress response to help us think more clearly and react more appropriately to everyday situations
- Encourages a deeper breathing pattern that stimulates air going into the lower lungs- this is especially helpful to prevent pneumonia and for getting more oxygen circulated to the cells in your body
- Exhaling through the nose gives the air more time in your body (because smaller hole = takes longer to exit), which means your body has more time to extract all of the good stuff from the air before pushing it out again… so you get more efficient breathing
- Nitric oxide is produced in the sinuses. It plays a role in boosting our immune system and regulating blood pressure.
- Balanced pH of your blood gases (to avoid serious consequences like Respiratory Acidosis which is associated with fatigue, shortness of breath and confusion)
- Deep nasal breathing will activate the lower lungs and move the rib cage will actually help with removing the waste from your cells! There are tons of lymph nodes and vessels in this area so the very act of deep nasal breathing can increase lymphatic flow, which means overall better circulatory and immune functioning!
- Can help you tolerate physical activity better
Health Dangers of Mouth Breathing
Besides the generally uncomfortable problems of dry mouth, breathing through your mouth can actually cause health problems. Here’s a list of common health risks associated with mouth breathing:
- Decreased oxygenation of cells
- Increases the body’s stress response which can lead to high blood pressure, a high heart rate or abnormal heart rhythm, which increase the risk for heart attacks and strokes
- Encourages “chest breathing” which is a more shallow breathing pattern that can decrease the amount of oxygen delivered to the cells in your body
- Mouth breathing means the nitric oxide produced by your sinuses do not get distributed throughout your body which means less immune response and less regulation of blood pressure
- Poor regulation of oxygen to carbon dioxide exchange which can lead to dizziness, fainting, foggy thought patterns
- Can contribute to lower exertion levels, quicker fatigue time with less activity than if you were breathing nasally
- Reduced effectiveness of saliva to manage germs in your mouth… which can lead to cavities
- It can even affect your facial structure
Why Do People Mouth Breathe
There are two basic reasons why someone is a mouth breather: habit or because of something blocking full air pathway when they attempt to breathe nasally.
The habit of mouth breathing can be a reaction to congestion that lingers after the congestion is gone. It can also be a stress response as high levels of stress can encourage a shallow and quick breathing pattern.
Habit, of course, can be easily corrected with just some information and a bit of determination.
But when there’s a blockage it can be tricky for sure!
How can you tell if you have a nasal blockage?
Close your mouth and try to breathe for two minutes through your nose. If you can do it but it’s uncomfortable, you just have a habit of mouth breathing. If you cannot tolerate 2 minutes of breathing through your nose, you probably have some sort of blockage.
Common Nasal Blockages
- Congestion (from cold, allergies or sinus drainage)
- Anatomical problem – from large tonsils to a deviated septum or sleep apnea, there are lots of possible difficulties
Suggestions to Address Congestion
- Avoid foods that increase mucus production – you can do this temporarily and add them back in one at a time to see which ones are the biggest triggers for you. (For me, I have found that gluten is a huge mucous trigger in my diet!)
- Neti Pot (Yes, this is kinda gross, but it’s a home remedy allergy sufferers swear by! Check out a how-to video here)
- Buteyko Method: There are seminars and workshops on how to breath right… but you can also learn from the comfort of your own home with this book. The reviews are littered with people that fixed both short term congestion from colds and allergies to chronic problems like asthma, COPD, and sleep apnea *Note: I’m not guaranteeing or even insinuating that this book will do all of that for you, just mentioning that these reports are self-reported in the reviews.
One Last (Super Weird) Hack to Stop Mouth Breathing
Tape your mouth shut at night… What?!
Yep… sleep taping is a thing. And the dentist in the video below recommends it regularly. Check it out:
28 Reasons to Nose Breathe (Blog post)