Are my breathing habits hurting my health?

breathinghabits-large.jpgLook around at your fellow humans and you’re likely to observe that an impressive percentage of the population breathes incorrectly. Some of the most common features of inadequate breathing are taking shallow breaths; making audible sound while breathing, even at rest; and drawing breath with the muscles of the upper chest instead of using the diaphragm. Worst of all, and maybe the most common, is the habit of mouth breathing.

Understandably, some people are mouth breathers for reasons they can’t control. Allergies, chronic congestion or physical malformation can obstruct the nasal passages, making it difficult or impossible to breathe correctly. But for the majority of mouth-breathers, the cause is related to behavior such as bad posture, smoking, dipping snuff or ‘vaping,’ or leftover habits from childhood. For those of us in that large group, the question is this: Do my breathing habits hurt my health?

Children can develop habitual mouth breathing because of enlarged tonsils and adenoids, which can obstruct the nasal passages. This is not so uncommon in small kids, but there can be trouble if the habit persists after the congestion clears up. In children whose bodies are still developing, the consequences can include changes in development of facial structure such as elongated, narrow face and chin, overbite and less-defined cheek bones.

Tobacco and vape use come with their own list of general health consequences; these are the ones that can interfere with proper breathing:

  • Inhaling smoke or vapor through the mouth IS mouth breathing
  • Irritants plug up your nose and force mouth breathing
  • Unlike your nasal passages, your throat can’t filter bacteria, dust and pollution, or the solids in smoke and vapor
  • Your saliva mixes with chemicals and tobacco byproducts from smoke or chew — you swallow that, which interferes with normal mucous drainage from your nasal passages and can irritate the esophagus and stomach lining

Even for nonsmokers, there’s a long list of problems associated with improper breathing. These can range from embarrassing, like bad breath, to life-threatening – obesity, heart and lung problems and more:

  • Headache
  • Gum disease
  • Tooth Decay
  • Irritated throat
  • Common cold-like symptoms
  • Bad breath
  • Disrupted Sleep
  • Gastric problems including gas and GERD
  • Obesity triggered by chronic fatigue
  • Heart and circulatory problems due to obesity

Breathing through the mouth also makes people more likely to rely on the muscles of the upper chest to draw breath, rather than the diaphragm. This causes shallow breathing; the lungs don’t fill with fresh, oxygen bearing air when you inhale, and don’t expel as much carbon dioxide-laden air when you exhale.

Better breathing is not just a matter of preference. Research shows that the body is exquisitely designed for breathing through the nose. Proper breathing does more than help to avoid the bad things discussed above. The list of benefits from proper breathing is long and compelling:

  • Nose breathing improves oxygen in the bloodstream
  • Exhaling through the nose creates backpressure which improves and maintains lung volume capacity
  • The nasal and sinus passages produce nitric oxide, which can kill harmful bacteria
  • The nostrils help warm cold air before it reaches the lungs

And there’s much more:

  • Better metabolism
  • Sharper concentration and alertness
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Mental calm through vagus nerve stimulation
  • Fewer sleep problems – fall asleep easily, wake up better rested
  • Steadier blood sugar levels

So, that’s the brief list of pluses and minuses for proper breathing through your nose.