A Primer on Nasal Breathing - What’s The Big Deal Anyway?

A Primer on NasalBreathing -

What’s The Big DealAnyway?

Thanks to the recent release of Stranger Things - Season 4, “mouthbreathers” are back in the news and the derisions have returned. So let’sreview…why is mouth breathing so insult worthy?

First, let’s establish thebenefits of breathing through our nose.

Watch a baby, watch an animal, they breathe through their nose.The nose is designed to be the primary opening for respiration in our body. Itcomes with some fantastic design features. First it is lined with mucousmembrane and small hairs that filter the air that we breathe. The mucusmembrane has its own biome that manages and neutralizes much of the bacteria webreath in, protecting the deeper tissues and structures of our respiratorysystem from bacterial invasion. The tiny hairs in our nose filter largerparticles that can be triggers for asthma and other reactive illnesses.

The nose also warms the air by sending it over warm,vascularized turbinates. The air can warm by 40 degrees before it leaves thenose and this prevents our airways from tightening and contracting as theywould when exposed to cold air.  

Our nose moistens the air too.  Because air flows over moist mucus membranesthe air moistens slightly and keeps the rest of the airway supple. A dry airwaycan narrow and become too reactive. Ironically, when we breathe through ourmouths, the opposite happens. Instead of the mucus membranes moistening thebreath, the breath dries the mucus membranes.

Our noses regulate air volume by providing a smaller portof entry. Believe it or not, this is a good thing and actually helps our bodyreceive more oxygen. This concept is called the Bohr Effect and if you staytuned I’ll write about that in a future entry.

Finally, our nose is part of an amazing process that actually dilates/opensour airways. Our sinuses create a gas called nitric oxide which has asignificant effect on many body functions including the reversal of plaque andcholesterol build up in the blood vessels. As we breathe through our nose wedeliver the nitric oxide through the airways, helping them open up, and passnitric oxide into the blood stream.

Now, what about mouthbreathing…?

Mouth breathing is the opposite of above. Air is colder, dryer,and dirtier when we breathe it. All of these qualities cause our airways tonarrow. When airways narrow a little we work harder to breathe and startforcing lots of air. This will typically further narrow the airways. As the airwaysconstrict further we start to develop more serious breathing difficulties suchas asthma and hyperventilation syndrome.

Additionally, mouth breathing is terrible for the mouth. Rememberthat mouth breathing actually dries the mucus membranes in the mouth. Thisalters the biome of the mouth and allows unfriendly bacteria to grow. Mouthbreathers have greater incidents of bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease.They also have a greater need for orthodonture. Apparently as the jaw hangsopen for breath, over time, the bone and muscle structure of the face changes.The palate narrows. Teeth become crowded and misalignment occurs. People with ahistory of mouth breathing often complain of facial pain, jaw pain, teethgrinding, snoring and sleep apnea. In fact apnea is so likely with mouthbreathing that studies are being conducted and there is some early evidencethat mouth breathing is connected to lowered IQ and some behavioral challenges.

Most mouth breathing originates from a blocked nasal airway. If youknow or have been told that you breathe through your nose consider visiting ouroffice for a nasal airway evaluation. Blockages can be reduced in many ways.It’s worth it. Breathing through your nose can change your life!!!

Lisa C. Decatorsmith, L.Ac., MSOM
Practitioner of Eastern Medicine at Exhale Sinus and Nasal Pain Center