If you are a mouth breather, you may assume that the worst side effect is getting grief from others about your habit. However, as a mouth breather, there are some serious and significant problems associated with your breathing.
Breathing, even if you don’t think of it often, is a complex process which must be coordinated at all times. Your nose is a vital organ despite what you may think. As the American Academy of Otolaryngology states, the nose “…processes the air you breathe before it enters your lungs. Most of this activity takes place in and on the turbinates, located on the sides of the nasal passages.” Consider the last time you had a cold. Most likely your sleep was disrupted during the night leading to reduced cognitive functioning, low energy levels and change in mood the next day. This is the constant battle facing a person who is a mouth breather.
What Causes one to be a Mouth Breather?
There are three types of mouth breathing: obstructive, habitual and anatomic. The most common cause of mouth breathing is obstructions. Nasal airway passageways may be partially or completely obstructed. Some women find that during the third trimester of pregnancy they experience what is known as pregnancy rhinitis. Frequent causes of mouth breathing include:
Particularly in children, chronic allergies lead to nasal airway obstruction. Though everyone experiences either allergies or a cold that causes mouth breathing, chronic allergies lead to mouth breathing being the normal way of getting air.
Your adenoids are composed of tissue that connects the nasal cavity to the throat. Adenoids exist to fight off infections due to viruses or bacteria that enter your body through the nose. However, sometimes adenoids can be enlarged and when this happens they can lead to mouth breathing. Other complications from enlarged adenoids include loud snoring, sleep apnea and breathing that sounds labored.
Turbinates are masses of tissue in your nose that warm and moisten the air you inhale. When your inferior turbinates become abnormally large they can cause a nasal obstruction that leads to mouth breathing. Other experiences that may appear with turbinate hypertrophy are a persistent runny nose, and nasal obstruction that worsens when you lay down.
The septum is a wall that separates the left nasal cavity from the right nasal cavity. Your septum is composed of cartilage in the front and bone in the back. It is completely normal to have one nasal cavity to be larger than the other, in fact nearly 80% of people experience a deviated septum according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. However, there are some deviated septums are so severe that they lead to nasal obstruction. When you cannot breath properly through your nose, you become a mouth breather.
What Symptoms Does a Mouth Breather Experience?
Mouth breathers often wake up with a dry mouth and throat. Dryness is also experienced in the daytime as well, but can be temporarily remedied by moistening the lips. While a dry mouth and throat seem annoying but harmless, other symptoms mouth breathers experience are far more problematic to their health. Symptoms of mouth breathing include:
- Poor quality of sleep
- Daytime fatigue
- Low energy
- Reduced cognitive functioning
- Excessive snoring during sleep
- Habitual bad breath
- Sore throat
- Dental conditions
Additionally, a mouth breather has an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Mouth breathing reduces the amount of oxygen found in the blood, which can lead to high blood pressure and other heart complications.
What Treatments are Available to Mouth Breathers?
Mouth breathing is not a new medical threat. In a paper published by the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1913, W.W. James states that: “[t]he ill effects produced by nasal obstruction and mouth-breathing are so significant that in all branches of medical science the establishment of normal respiration is regarded as of the utmost importance.”
In children it is often the dentist who notices and diagnoses mouth breathing. A child mouth breather exhibits gingivitis and possible facial and dental development. Treatment for mouth breathers is performed by an ear, nose and throat doctor. The treatment necessary for mouth breathing is dependent on the cause of mouth breathing. Some of the possible treatments for mouth breathing are:
- Septoplasty – During a septoplasty, your doctor will straighten and correctly position the septum.
- Rhinoplasty – Not always done for cosmetic reasons, a rhinoplasty operation reshapes and modifies the nasal bones and cartilage.
- Turbinate Reduction Surgery – Turbinate reduction surgery often takes place at the same time as a rhinoplasty. These surgeries, as the name implies, reduce the size of the turbinates. There are several options for turbinate reduction surgery. One possibility is radiofrequency reduction, which shrinks the size of your nasal turbinates without having to remove any nasal tissue or bone.
- Adenoidectomy – This surgery is most often performed on children and is completed at the same time as a tonsillectomy. During an adenoidectomy, the adenoids are completely removed.
If you are a mouth breather, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible to rectify the cause of your mouth breathing. A trusted ENT doctor, Dr. John Austin, has been practicing as an Austin ENT for 20 years. Dr. Austin has a broad range of expertise and treats patients who suffer from many ENT conditions, including mouth breathing. Contact one of his three office locations today to begin the process of normal respiration.