Mouth-Breathers Beware: It’s More Than a Bad Habit
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When you have a stuffy nose because of a cold or allergies, you may breath through your mouth while you sleep.
Waking up to a dry tongue and cracked lips is bothersome. But, breathing through your mouth all the time can cause more lasting health problems, or it can be an indication of an underlying condition.
What’s so bad about mouth breathing?
“Mouth breathing is a problem if it’s affecting your sleep, oral and sinus health, or overall wellbeing,” says Jose W. Ruiz III, M.D., an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist) with the University of Miami Health System.
Why aren’t you breathing in and out of your nose?
It’s common to breathe from the mouth when exercising strenuously, as it can help oxygen reach your muscles faster.
But, chronic mouth breathing can be a sign of nasal obstruction, large adenoids (primarily in children), or large tonsils. A facial anatomic abnormality such as one that misaligns the jaw, making it more challenging to keep the mouth closed, can also be a reason. Allergies, sinusitis, deviated septum, turbinate hypertrophy, adenoid hypertrophy, polyps, and other conditions can cause nasal obstruction.
“Some people have no obstruction or problem, but mouth breathing has become a bad habit,” says Dr. Ruiz.
Inhaling through your nose has its advantages.
First of all, breathing in through the nose allows you to smell and to breathe comfortably.
Also, nose hairs and the nasal lining help filter out airborne irritants, essentially cleaning the air you inhale. This is the body’s first line of defense against airborne bacteria and viruses.
When air enters your nose, it’s also warmed and made more humid before it reaches your lungs. This helps moisten bronchial tubes and prevent the lungs from receiving cold, dry air.
Breathing through your nose even adds some resistance to the airflow, which helps the lungs maintain elasticity.
If mouth breathing is a problem for you or your child, what can you do?
The right treatment for chronic mouth breathing depends on the cause.
“The most common cause in adults and children is an obstruction of the air passing through the nose, causing people to have to open their mouths,” Dr. Ruiz says.“Nasal obstruction can be due to a variety of conditions. Typically, this problem is addressed with medical therapy such as a glucocorticoid nasal spray or an antihistamine.”
Drug-free nasal adhesive strips, when worn over the nostrils, can painlessly open nasal passageways to ease breathing through the nose.
If the cause for mouth breathing doesn’t resolve with over-the-counter treatments or is more complicated, “see your primary care doctor or an ENT specialist to assess the situation,” Dr. Ruiz says. “Sometimes, a nasal procedure or surgery is needed to resolve the nasal obstruction.”
When mouth breathing results from a jaw misalignment, an orthodontist may recommend a dental appliance to reposition the jaw and correct the bite, encouraging the mouth to close properly.
If breathing through your mouth is simply a bad habit you’ve developed, make a conscious effort to stop. Treat it as if you’re trying to correct poor posture. Take a moment now and then to pay attention to your breathing. Practicing slow, deep, intentional breathing through the nose and out of the mouth may also help you reset your breathing habits.
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.