You breathe about 22,000 times every single day. If you’re like most people, you probably assume that the fact that you are breathing is all that matters. And, of course, breathing IS pretty darned important (certainly preferable over not breathing, right??).
But how you breathe also matters—a lot. In fact, less-than-optimal breathing can increase your risk of asthma, COPD, sleep apnea, diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, and other conditions. And when poor breathing affects your sleep, you’ll likely also feel tired, unfocused, irritable, and just plain crummy.
So what makes for better breathing? It all comes down to whether you breathe through your nose or your mouth.
Mike Rowe, the producer and host of the TV series Dirty Jobs, delved into this topic in 2022 in an episode of his podcast. He had septoplasty (a type of sinus surgery) the year before to fix a deviated septum and said the results were life-changing. Prior to the surgery, he wasn’t able to breathe through his nose—so he naturally breathed through his mouth instead. After the surgery, when he was able to breathe through his nose again, he was amazed at the difference.
“I didn’t fully appreciate just how bad my situation was until I got it fixed,” Rowe explained. “It’s changed every aspect of my life, from the way I exercise to the way I sleep.”
He says reading the book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor prompted him to finally get the sinus surgery that he’d “needed for 35 years” after breaking his nose several times in his early 20s.
Why mouth breathing can cause health problems
On the surface, it doesn’t seem like whether you breathe through your mouth or your nose would really make much of a difference. After all, it’s just a matter of bringing in oxygen and sending out carbon dioxide, right? But breathing primarily through your mouth instead of your nose can lead to:
- Reduced oxygen intake. This is the root of the problem. When you breathe through your mouth, you take in less oxygen than when you breathe through your nose. Not getting enough oxygen can lead to feelings of fatigue and brain fog, not to mention long-term impacts on your overall health and wellbeing.
- Increased risk of respiratory infections. Mouth breathing bypasses the natural filtration and humidification system provided by the nose, making you more susceptible to respiratory infections and illnesses.
- Dental problems. Surprisingly, breathing primarily through your mouth can also cause a range of dental problems, including dry mouth, bad breath, and an increased risk of gum disease and tooth decay.
- Increased risk of sleep apnea. Mouth breathing is associated with an increased risk of sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing is repeatedly interrupted during sleep. Sleep apnea can have a range of negative health consequences, including an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Common causes of mouth breathing
What makes someone breathe through their mouth instead of their nose? Causes can include:
- Nasal congestion. People who suffer from chronic nasal congestion, whether due to allergies, sinusitis, or other conditions, may find it difficult to breathe through their noses and may resort to mouth breathing as a result.
- Structural issues. Some people may have structural issues with their nasal passages that make it difficult to breathe through their noses. These issues may be congenital or may develop as a result of injury or trauma.
- Lifestyle factors. Certain lifestyle factors, such as smoking or spending long periods of time in polluted environments, can contribute to nasal congestion and make it difficult to breathe through the nose.
- Habits. Some people may develop the habit of mouth breathing, either due to stress or anxiety or simply because they never learned to breathe properly through their nose.
How to stop mouth breathing
If you tend to breathe out of your mouth, it’s important to address the underlying cause. Schedule a consultation with an Iowa ENT Center physician by calling us at 515-223-4368 or by requesting an appointment online. We’ll listen to you as you tell us about your symptoms, conduct a thorough exam, and explain your options for treatment (if needed).
It’s important to note that not all sinus problems require surgery. In fact, many common sinus issues can be treated right in our office with non-invasive techniques.