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

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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.
 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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35 thoughts on “Attention All Mouth Breathers – 5 Important Reasons Why You Must Breathe Through Your Nose

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3.  
    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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  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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.

  14. I’m 42 for as long as I can remember, I have never breathed through my nose. My taste buds smell not working very good.which I know is through breathing in mouth.my left ear hearing at about 70 ‘/, ok.

  15. dr. park, I’m so relieved to find you and your wealth of knowledge in obstructive sleep apnea, for which I have been diagnosed. from an overnight sleep study, I slept 4 of 6 hours, went to the bathroom at midpoint; incurred up to 36 stops in breathing/hour; severe snoring; insomnia; tired upon wake up; a rather dismal quality of life! tonight I get fitted for CPAP overnight and have pressure identified that will hopefully restore and refresh me to experiencing life so much better. I do not nose breathe properly and am trying the Buteyko Breathing Method… and also found Oral Myofunctional Therapy as something to try as well. I did your simple test of placing both forefingers on each side of nose over sinuses, applying pressure and and outwardly raising toward temples… sure enough, the more pressure applied, the more I can BREATHE! upon release, it’s like a depressing reality to return to inadequate breathing from such narrow airways. I would like to consider a surgery for this, or at least identify if it’s my turbinates that are closing, or nasal collapse, or inflammation is the cause or causes… do you have any recommendations? yes, I’m overweight, but I had this when I was not overweight. I want to do whatever I can to open up my airway! thank you

  16. Ms. Baker,

    Your best bet is to see an ENT surgeon that can help you with this condition. Remember, it’s important to have optimal nasal breathing for CPAP to work well. Good luck!

  17. thank you for the advice… I scheduled a consultation aug. 18 (soonest!) with an ENT specialist for a sinus CT to elect proper scoping, maybe try a nasal steroid? no strip or spray is strong enough, but I haven’t had steroid treatment. thank you for the follow up, i’ll be sure to comment after more results. thank you again!

  18. Hi ,

    I have been diagnosed with a deviated septum in my left nose.My sleep is quite poor as both the nostrils are closed while sleeping in the side position. I am highly allergic to dust, pollen, scented perfumes and so on. Is there any possibility of improving my sleep without surgery. Thanks in advance.

  19. Jeff,

    For nasal congestion, it’s important to see an ENT to address it medically or surgically. Opening up the nose has been found to significantly increase CPAP effectiveness.

  20. my son 3yr 7months he is breathin gfrom his mouth since two and half year i consulted the paediatricians and ENT sergeons but of no use they tell he is having lack of immunity and as he grows up it will go automatically and he developed adenoids and tonsils plz give me the soution

  21. I just came across this article. I have little sense of smell and I snore. That only started in the last 5 years. I have gained a lot of weight due to My Trigenimal Neuralgia. My question is that lately my nostrils seem to close up slightly. They are not stuffy and as soon as I move my nose it opens up. What can cause this?

  22. today my nose and mouth are closed and i can not breath . my throat is completely dry . i fill very bad and i think that l will die at this time.
    so why it happen i dont know
    please tell

  23. This article was rude, If could breath through my nose I would. If I COULD. Obviously the writer of this article has no idea what it’s like to live with a deviated septum AND allergies.

    -Offended

  24. my child has itching ears mouth breather sleeping problem,when given anti biotics she becomes better,the doctors did x.tray the adeniods sinus are normal?why this?

  25. I have been breathing through my mouth since I was a baby. I am 67 yrs old. I can breathe once in a while with my mouth closed, but my airway is still opened very little. I try to keep my mouth closed,but I feel like I am not getting enough air. Now my smell has gone & taste buds also. I can smell & taste very little. My mouth flies wide open when I fall asleep even if I try to keep it shut. Even when I had TMJ surgery they had to put something around my head to keep my mouth closed. People said I should go to an ENT dr, but someone told me it didn’t do any good. I am so tired of being able to breathe through my nose, taste my food, or smell anything. Could you suggest what I should do. Now I know I am old, but I am still very much alive for my age. Thank you so much!

  26. When I was 14yrs I was told I had to stop competitive swimming as I continually got severe ear infections, otherwise I would probably be deaf by now. I started plying rugby and during my sporting life have a one or two belts on the nose. I was offered basal surgery to cleR sinuses when I was 19yrs but declined. I am now 62yrs and in Oct 2015 got a minor chest infection that took for every to clear. I also got nasal congestion and along with central treating being turned up ended up with dry nasal passage. Left nostril nearly closed as a result. Been to my GP twice and given antibiotics , nasal spray and steroids spray. Three weeks ago I was given steroid cream to put inside nose.
    Passage seems to have opened slightly and I can breathe through my nose. However it appears that I have a deviated septum as my right nasal passage us considerably larger than left. I do not want surgery. What are my alternatives if there are any

  27. When I was 14yrs I was told I had to stop competitive swimming as I continually got severe ear infections. I started playing rugby and during my sporting life have a one or two belts on the nose. I am now 62. I have had nasal congestion an a dry nasal passage on and off for 4 months.Left nostril nearly closed. Dr gave me antibiotics , nasal and steroids spray then steroid cream to put inside nose.
    Passage seems to have opened slightly and I can breathe through my nose.Appears I have a deviated septum as my right nasal passage us considerably larger than left. I do not want surgery. What are my alternatives if there are any

  28. Have had one or two belts on the nose playing sport. I am now 62 and have had nasal congestion and a dry nasal passage on and off for 4 months.Left nostril nearly closed. Had antibiotics , nasal and steroids spray then steroid cream to put inside nose.
    Passage seems to have opened slightly and I can breathe through my nose.Appears I have a deviated septum as my right nasal passage us considerably larger than left. I do not want surgery. What are my alternatives if there are any

  29. Mr. Stewart,

    Structural problems such as a deviated septum are difficult to address fully with medical therapy. Decongestant can work to various degrees, and also have side effects. Vigorous nasal saline irrigation (such as a Neti-pot) can also help, but can be cumbersome. If you have flimsy nostrils then nasal dilator strips (Breathe Right) can help. Internal dilators can also be found online. Good luck.

  30. Athanks for your reply to my problems. Have just bought Nasal Dilators from Max- air yesterday do will see how they go. I am using Sali e cleanse as well. However have visited dentist today as I was having discomfort from upper jaw on left side under my sinus. This had been going on for several months but only decided to have it checked out yesterday. Appear I have a problem with two of my molars. Dentist has crated yhem to find which one or other is causing problem. Cold air being blasted at it wasn’t very comfortable. Hopefully thT is the root of the problem