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What is Mouth Breathing?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 23, 2024
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Mouth breathing is a respiratory pattern where people primarily breathe in and out through their mouths, rather than using the nose for the bulk of respiration. There can be a number of reasons for people to breathe through their mouths, and it can potentially lead to some health problems in the long term. When it is identified, patients can be treated for the cause and given some tips and tricks for preventing mouth breathing in the future.

One of the primary reasons for people to start breathing through the mouth is obstruction in the nose. This can be caused by colds, chronic congestion, or allergies. People with conditions like allergies, asthma, and apnea can be at increased risk of nasal congestion. Sometimes, structures inside the nose are responsible, or a person's sleeping position leads to blockage of the nasal airways, forcing the person to breathe through the mouth at night.

The nose is designed to filter air, a function the mouth does not offer, and noses also warm air before it is inhaled. People who breathe through their mouths can be more at risk of getting sick and they may experience pulmonary problems. In addition, chronic mouth breathing can lead to changes in muscle tone around the mouth, and in children may cause facial abnormalities and dental problems. It can also lead to snoring, something potentially annoying for people sleeping in the same room.

Treatment for mouth breathing requires finding out why the patient isn't breathing through the nose. If there is a physical cause like a blockage, surgery may be needed to correct it. Congestion can be managed with medications, and patients may also benefit from treatments like saline rinses of the nose to clear out congested material. Once the cause has been addressed, the patient should be able to breathe naturally through the nose and the problem will be resolved.

In someone who has developed a mouth breathing habit as a result of years of nasal blockage, more intervention may be needed to break this breathing pattern and help the patient start breathing through the nose. This can include breathing exercises, focusing on nasal breathing while awake, and using tools like nasal strips to open up the nostrils and encourage the patient to breathe through the nose. Patients can work with their doctors on the problem, and some may benefit from seeing an allied health professional like a respiratory therapist.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Fa5t3r — On Jul 29, 2014

@bythewell - I don't know how I would stand it if that happened to me. Whenever I get a blocked nose when I'm sick it's the worst. I can never sleep properly when I'm having to breathe through my mouth, because it always automatically closes as soon as I drift off and then I snap awake again.

Maybe you get used to it eventually, but it would drive me up the wall. I hope nothing ever happens to my nose that would make that an issue.

By bythewell — On Jul 28, 2014

@croydon - I don't think anyone breathes through their mouth on purpose. I had a friend who did it for a long time but he didn't really like it either. You end up with dry mouth and bad breath more easily and it can be really uncomfortable and even bad for your teeth.

Unfortunately, he had broken his nose as a kid and it didn't set properly (probably because his parents didn't bother to bring him to the doctor and make sure it was OK. They weren't the best parents). He basically couldn't breathe through his nose without feeling like he wasn't getting enough air.

Eventually he had an operation and his nose was fixed, but I hate the thought of people judging him before that for something he had no control over.

By croydon — On Jul 28, 2014

I really can't stand it when someone else is breathing through their mouth really loudly. It just seems kind of creepy to me. I completely understand why calling someone a mouth breather is an insult, even though logically there shouldn't be any reason mouth breathing would be that annoying.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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