Attention All Mouth Breathers – 5 Important Reasons Why You Must Breathe Through Your Nose

December 1, 2009

If you’re a chronic mouth breather because of a stuffy nose, you’re not alone. As the weather chills and allergies and colds abound, and nasal congestion becomes a common trend, mouth breathing inevitably follows-especially when you’re sleeping. I’m sure you’ve seen many passengers asleep on the subways and trains, head and pitched back, mouth wide open, and snoring louder than a diesel engine. Mouth breathing can surely ruin your social image, but that’s nothing compared to the havoc it can wreak on your health.

 

5 Potent Benefits of Breathing through Your nose

One of the most important reasons to breathe through your nose is because of a gas called nitric oxide that’s made by your nose and sinus mucous membranes. This gas is produced in small amounts, but when inhaled into the lungs, it significantly enhances your lung’s capacity to absorb oxygen, increasing oxygen absorption in your lungs by 10-25%. Nitric oxide also can kill bacteria, viruses and other germs. This is why you often hear fitness and yoga instructors emphasize inhaling and exhaling through your nose during workouts.

Also, if you can’t breathe well through your nose, your sense of smell will suffer and therefore your sense of taste, since your smell and taste buds are connected. This can lead to disturbances in your appetite and satiation levels, wreaking havoc on those struggling with weight issues.

Your nose also has vital nervous system connections to your lungs and heart. Not breathing well through your nose can alter your heart rate and blood pressure, as well as increase your stress responses.

Your nose makes about 2 pints of mucous every day. If your nose isn’t working properly and mucous isn’t cleared, the stagnant mucous can lead to infections such as sinusitis or ear infections, not to mention bad breath.

Lastly, not breathing well through your nose can aggravate snoring or obstructive sleep apnea. Nasal congestion alone doesn’t cause obstructive sleep apnea, but it can definitely aggravate it. If your palate and tongue structures are predisposed to falling back easily due to sleeping on your back and muscle relaxation in deep sleep, then having a stuffy nose can aggravate further collapse downstream. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea can lead to chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Knowing all these benefits of breathing through your nose, however, doesn’t help much if you don’t know why you’re not able to do so.  To stop mouth breathing, the first thing you must do is to figure out what’s blocking up your nose.

What Can Stop Up Your Nose

Nasal congestion is something everyone experiences now and again. Yet, if you’re trying to prevent this from happening it’s important to explore the various reasons behind why and when this occurs.

Here are five of the most common reasons for a stuffy nose:

"I Have a Deviated Septum"

By definition everyone has a slightly crooked (deviated) nasal septum. There are various reasons for having a deviated septum, including trauma, but the most common reason is no reason at all. It’s just the way your nose developed. What’s more important than how deviated your septum is is what’s happening in front of an around your septum.

Wings in Your Nose

Turbinates are wing-like structures that attach to the sidewalls of the nasal cavity, opposite the midline nasal septum. They normally smooth, warm, humidify, and filter the air that you breathe, but they also become enlarged and produce mucous when inflamed. Turbinates also swell and shrink alternating from side to side, which is a normal neurologic process called the nasal cycle.

Is It An Infection or Allergies?

If you have allergies, a cold or any kind of infection, then your turbinates will swell up, clogging your nose with lots of mucous production. Contrary to popular belief, the color of the mucous has no relation to bacterial vs. viral infections.

Flimsy Nostrils

Once you have inflammation and swelling inside your nose, for some people, depending on the configuration of your nose, your nostrils can literally cave in as you inhale. Different noses have differently shaped nostrils with various nostril thicknesses. The more narrow your nose, the more likely your nostrils can cave in. People who undergo cosmetic rhinoplasty are more at risk years later, since narrowing the nose can weaken the support structures of the nose.

A Nervous Nose?

Some people’s noses are extra sensitive, especially to weather changes, like temperature, humidity, and pressure changes. Certain chemicals, scents and odors can set off a reaction as well. Many people mistakenly think this reaction is an allergy, but it’s really your nasal nervous system over-reacting to the weather or to odors. One of the most common reasons is from poor quality sleep, which causes a low-grade stress response, which can heighten your senses.

It’s All Under Your Nose

A chronically stuffy nose doesn’t happen by itself. Usually it’s part of a bigger picture, where the entire upper and lower jaws are more narrow and constricted, in addition to more narrow nasal cavities. I’ve described this process in my book, Sleep Interrupted, where due to modern human’s eating soft, mushy, processed foods, our jaws are much more narrow than normal, with dental crowding. Bottle-feeding, which is another modern, Western phenomenon, is also thought to aggravate this problem.

If you have a stuffy nose, it can also aggravate soft palate and tongue collapse when in deep sleep, due to muscle relaxation. With more obstruction, more stomach juices are suctioned up into the throat and nose, causing more swelling and more nasal congestion. All this from smaller and more narrow jaws.
 

16 Responses to “Attention All Mouth Breathers – 5 Important Reasons Why You Must Breathe Through Your Nose”

  1. Brezr on December 2nd, 2009 8:57 pm

    What kind of breathing aids have you used to help open your nasal passages?

  2. Steven Park on December 3rd, 2009 7:07 am

    I’m hosting a special Ask Dr. Park teleseminar on nasal questions such as yours. Please feel free to ask your question there and you’ll get the information to access the call. Here’s the link to ask your question:

    http://doctorstevenpark.com/ask-dr-park-about-your-nose-sleep-apnea

  3. Anna on December 5th, 2009 9:05 am

    Excellent summary! I’ve definitely noticed a huge correlation to how well I sleep and how well I feel and function the next day to my ability to breath freely through my nose at night. I get the best sleep (and therefore better days) if I use adhesive nasal strips. The next best is using Max-Air Nose cones (I’m more aware of them and they sometimes fall out).

  4. Candy Cook on December 6th, 2009 7:20 pm

    I have recently been waking up in the middle of the night with severe allergy symptoms. Is it possible to become allergic to a cpap machine? Any input would be appreciated , as this is causing extreme loss of sleep.

  5. James on January 4th, 2010 5:40 pm

     
    Great information Dr Park.
    An additional reason for more difficulty when mouth breathing is that opening the mouth rotates the jaw downward.  This narrows the throat by pushing the hyoid back slightly and by reducing the tenstion on the tongue mucle making the tongue more prone to fall backwards.
     
     

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  6. Steven Park on January 4th, 2010 7:19 pm

    Great point, James. Many of these over-the-internet chin straps function by keeping the mouth closed, and in some people, it can work, but for most, since they have nasal congestion due to structural reasons, they won't be able to sleep with it on. Sometimes, a mandibular advancement device for sleep apnea can cause the tongue to fall back and aggravate the problem, especially if it's thick.

  7. kenneth kullmann on January 25th, 2010 12:29 pm

    I have begun using a Wendy's plastic straw but to about 1 1/2 inches long to insert in my left nostril because the nasal passageway collapses  when I breathe in. Is there damage which my be done by this? Does it interfere with the turbonnate function? Any suggestions? I saw nose cone mentioned. What is it?
     
    Thankd

  8. Steven Park on January 25th, 2010 1:55 pm

    Kenneth,

    It sounds like you have nasal valve collapse. Sinus cones and Nozovents are two options for you if Breathe Right strips don’t help. Ultimately, you’ll have to see an ENT surgeon to figure out if it’s from internal nasal congestion, or from naturally flimsy nostrils.

  9. Tom S on February 4th, 2010 7:39 pm

    Hi Dr. Park.

    I'm 18 and have been breathing through my mouth for as long as I remember. When I attempt to breath through my  nose, after a few minutes, I simply feel like I'm not getting enough air, and continue to breath through my mouth. I don't have any congestion and am not overweight. Do you have any tips or suggestions?

    Thanks!

  10. Steven Park on February 4th, 2010 8:18 pm

    Tom S,

     

    The three most common reason for nasal congestion are deviated septum, enlarged turbinates (mostly from allergies) and nasal valve collapse. If Breathe Right Strips help, then you have nasal valve collapse. See an ENT for a more definitive diagnosis.

  11. Judith T. on February 25th, 2010 10:43 am

    Dr.Park,
    I have a 14 year old son who has been a mouth breather all his life. His nose has been stuffy and has no sense smell for many years.  I just came across your page and now realize there may be a connection with his multiple issues and would like advice. He was diagnosed with asthma at about 5 years old. The current controller he is on for that is advair. He has been hospitalized with pneumonia about 8 times since age 7. I now think this may more be related to his reflux when sleeping than asthma. We did take him to an allergy clinic and he recieved shots twice a week. His nose remained stuffy and blocked and we stopped the shots after 6 months. He has a bad deviated septum and we just assumed this is the cause. He had frequent strep throat and very large tonsills so we took him to an ENT hoping a tonsillectomy would also help him sleep better. The ENT removed the tonsills, adenoids, and did a procedure on his turbinates. He stated the deviated septum should be repaired but we decided to wait.  It has been a year since the surgery and his nose is still blocked and can't smell anything so we were considering the repair.  The reason I started doing some research was a result of an orthodontic evaluation he just had. He has major teeth crowding and a very narrow palate. The orthodontist stated that the expander he will need may also help with the nasal passages and deviated septum. Now I am even starting to think his learning and attention issues at school may be more related to sleep problems than ADHD. Especially since we have no family history of ADHD.We hated putting him on medication for that. He has three siblings, all very healthy. no asthma, ADHD, allergies, reflux, nothing.  Thanks for your time, any guidance greatly appreciated!

  12. jon taylor on August 28th, 2010 1:51 am

    Hello. I havnt been able to breathe through my nose for a few years. I’ve been diagnosed as having enlarged turbinates. I’ve used nasal sprays to no avail. Now the cheek area at both sides of my nose seem to have become inflamed. Its hard to explain but to simpilfy I would say that its as if my cheeks are pushing/squeezing my nose out from its natural position.The tip,columella and nostrils are constantly stinging and my nose seems to have become very bulbous. I won’t go into the details of how my throat is very sore as I’m not sure if its relevant. My question is:Is it possible for fluid to build up at the sides of nose and push the nose into an unnatural position? Any advice would be much appreciated. Many thanks! Jon

  13. Steven Park on August 28th, 2010 4:31 am

    Having any nasal congestion can back up fluid in the face/cheek area. Did you ever see an ENT doctor about your problem?

  14. RoseMary Stewart on September 21st, 2012 11:14 pm

    Dr. I recently began wearing a sleep mask and was told it would help my blood pressure to go down. I am a mouth breather which I am unable to control in my sleep as you know. I was a EEG tech for 42 years and I know that breathing through my mouth causes hyperventilation syndrome which constricts the blood vessels and reduces o2 to the brain. Why don’t the sleep experts know this. I wake up with pressure like 200 over 100 most every morning. I have two 100% blocked carotids and am at extremely high risk for heart attack and stroke. My machine ramps up through the night and I usually awaken about 4am with air leaking out from the mask. I feel like I’m talking to people that don’t speak the same language. Obviously I need somethin to keep my mouth from falling open . Please do you have a suggestion for me? I know and have been tol I ammone of 2% of people that haven’t stroked due to my condition.Advice please,Thank you

  15. Kelly on March 3rd, 2013 4:58 am

    I can’t breath through my nose.Like I can for a minute or two but note for long.I’ve breathed through my mouth ever since I was born.My friends tell me that I should try to not breath through my mouth for the day.I tried I ended up not doing it because I could not breath at all.My friend say that I also have asthma I thonk my do but my parents tell me I do not.I think I do because there are times my friend say that I need to go to the nurse because I can’t breath properly or not at all.The teacher ends up not beliving.The school nurse told me to just put my head down for a while which turn in to 30 minutes.Please Help

  16. Jeff Todd on April 5th, 2013 6:50 am

    Read all of this website http://www.normalbreathing.com/ it says never repeat never breathe thrrough your mouth and tells you how to breathe as shallow as possible in order to maximise oxygen levels which ar related to CO2 levels in the lungs. Deep breathing will also cause you major problems. Following the advice from this website has helped me with my COPD but it also applies to anyones wellbeing.

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