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, “mouth breathers” are back in the news and the derisions have returned. So let’s review…why is mouth breathing so insult worthy?

First, let’s establish the benefits 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. It comes with some fantastic design features. First it is lined with mucous membrane and small hairs that filter the air that we breathe. The mucus membrane has its own biome that manages and neutralizes much of the bacteria we breath in, protecting the deeper tissues and structures of our respiratory system from bacterial invasion. The tiny hairs in our nose filter larger particles 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 the nose and this prevents our airways from tightening and contracting as they would when exposed to cold air.  

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

Our noses regulate air volume by providing a smaller port of 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 stay tuned I’ll write about that in a future entry.

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

Now, what about mouth breathing…?

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

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

Most mouth breathing originates from a blocked nasal airway. If you know or have been told that you breathe through your nose consider visiting our office 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, TMJ, Headache & Sleep