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Breathing Well, Part 3: The Perils of Mouth-Breathing

By Deborah Quilter

Think it doesn’t matter whether you breathe through your nose or mouth? According to Steven Park, MD, New York ear, nose and throat specialist and author of Sleep, Interrupted: A Physician Reveals The #1 Reason Why So Many Of Us Are Sick And Tired, which way you habitually breathe has important health implications.

Here’s why: When we breathe naturally through our nostrils, the air is warmed, filtered and humidified before it goes into the lungs. Nose-breathing also facilitates nitric oxide, a gas produced by the nose and sinuses that serves two important functions: It is anti-microbial and it increases oxygen absorption by 10 to 20 percent by dilating the blood vessels.

"Mouth-breathers tend to have more inflammation throughout entire upper breathing passageways from nose down to throat, says Dr. Park".

“There are many reasons some people cannot breathe through their nose,” explains Dr. Park. These could include allergies, a deviated septum, flimsy nostrils, polyps and sinus infections that make it difficult to breathe through the nose.

Unfortunately, chronic mouth-breathing creates a lot of problems. According to the article, “Is it Mental or is it Dental? Cranial & Dental Impacts on Total Health” by Raymond Silkman, DDS, mouth-breathing and lack of nitric oxide affects the cardiovascular system and the heart because “the smooth muscles that line all of the arteries react to this poorly oxygenated air with a kind of tightness, a kind of permanent tension, which can be very stressful and depleting to the body.” Further, blocking nitric oxide production in healthy people results in moderate hypertension and reduced heart output.

“Due to the lack of proper oxygenation, the ability to deliver fully oxygenated blood to the cells is also much reduced,” Dr. Silkman continues. “Thus mouth-breathing has a negative effect on every cell in the body as it deprives them of oxygen. Overall wellness and health requires proper oxygen as every particle of our being requires oxygen.”

Mouth-breathers tend to have more inflammation throughout entire upper breathing passageways from nose down to throat, says Dr. Park. The swelling is caused by inflamed turbinates (winglike structures that help warm and smooth the breath).

If you find it difficult to breathe through your nose, see an ear, nose and throat specialist to determine the cause of your stuffy nose. Since there are so many different reasons for nasal congestion, getting a thorough history and exam is important.