Mouth breathing: Not so harmless after all

Published on: 13/05/2022

Try to avoid mouth breathing, as it could have detrimental effects to your health.

Do you snore a lot? Maybe you wake up with a dry mouth and bad breath. Is your nose clogged most of the time? Do you wake up tired most mornings? If your answer is yes to these, maybe you suffer from mouth breathing and apnea.

Breathing should mostly happen through the nose. Although the mouth may be recruited in times of desperate need for oxygen or when your nasal passages are blocked, like when participating in sports activities or when you have colds. This type of mouth breathing is normal and to be expected. However, if it happens most of the time, especially when you sleep, it is a sign of an underlying issue. 

There are many reasons that could explain chronic mouth breathing during sleep. These include: nasal congestion (due to infection or allergies), deviated septum, or nasal polyps. In people suffering from sleep apnea, mouth breathing becomes the norm to compensate for their lack of oxygen. 

People with chronic allergies, asthma, and sinus infections are more susceptible to mouth breathing than the general population.

Why is nose breathing better?

In normal circumstances, the nose doesn’t just function as a passageway for air. Its job also includes filtering out large particles (via nose hairs and mucus), as well as moistening and warming the air that enters our lungs. In mouth breathing, these functions are severely reduced and may influence how our lungs process air. 

Mouth breathing is associated with several complications. These include gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath. In fact, mouth breathing can even be detrimental to the development of children, with research suggesting that it can cause elongated faces and narrow nostrils

Treatments for mouth breathing

For the most part, nasal breathing can be habituated if there is no severe underlying issue. Practice consciously breathing through the nose, especially when you’re about to sleep. This can be aided by the use of mouth tape or nasal sleep apparatuses to ensure nasal breathing throughout the night. Saline sprays or neti pots are also great ways to irrigate the nasal passageways and prevent the buildup of allergens and mucus deep in the nose. OTC antihistamines and air filters can help prevent allergic rhinitis, which causes nasal congestion, colds, and watery eyes. 

In cases where sleep apnea is the underlying cause, weight loss, sleeping pills, or decongestants are go-to treatments. However, please see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis and medical advice. 

For more serious cases like deviated septums, surgery may be needed to restore the full functionality of your nose. The doctor may also suggest continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy. This actively forces air into your respiratory tract to prevent low oxygen levels when you sleep.

Mouth breathing is a seemingly harmless phenomenon that could have serious consequences if left untreated. From reduced sleep quality to gingivitis, mouth breathing should be avoided at all costs, either through conscious effort or treatment of underlying issues. At-home remedies include mouth tape and saline nasal irrigation.

Benisek, A. (2021). What to know about mouth breathing. WebMD.

Healthline. (2019). Mouth Breathing: Symptoms, Complications, and Treatments.

Rigby, S. (2022). Mouth-breathing: Why it’s bad for you and how to stop. Science Focus.