If you breathe this common way you could be in danger: doctor

Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week, Dr Zac Turner talks about why breathing through your nose is better than breathing through your mouth.

QUESTION: Hi Dr Zac, Have I been breathing wrong my whole life? Over coffee a friend told me they stayed up all night watching YouTube videos about breathing, and that some doctors claim breathing from your mouth is unhealthy. Now I’m pretty good at picking up red flags these days, both with men and health advice, but this one has me stumped. Is it true? Or should I not fall for misinformation? Maia, 30, Sydney

Answer: I think this is a fascinating topic, and a particularly great question because it makes all of us rethink the simple things our bodies do each day. Just because it happens every day does not mean it’s good for you.

I’m on the side of your friend on this one. We all breathe automatically, without much thought to it. It’s important to pay attention to how you breathe, because it’s healthier to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth. The simplest reason is because nose breathing is more natural and helps your body effectively use the air you inhale.

You’re probably thinking right now, “Well that’s not me I breathe through my nose, I am doing it right now.” Well, that’s because you’re thinking about it. About 30-50 percent of adults breathe through their mouth, especially earlier in the day. Breathing through your mouth can lead to health problems, and cause things like bad breath and dry mouth.

Nose breathing is more natural than mouth  breathing and helps your body effectively use the air you inhale.
Nose breathing is more natural than mouth breathing and helps your body effectively use the air you inhale.

The beauty of your nose is that it’s perfectly designed to breathe safely. It can filter out foreign particles due to its nasal hairs. It can humidify inhaled air which makes it easier for your lungs to use, and it produces nitric oxide which is a vasodilator. That’s just a scientific way of saying it widens blood vessels to help improve oxygen circulation in your body.

Your mouth is perfectly designed to eat, drink and talk, but it doesn’t have any of the nifty features your nose has. Breathing through your mouth increases the risk of asthma, tooth decay, gingivitis, exposure to foreign particles like bacteria and pathogens, and snoring.

Breathing doesn’t have to be so complex — you can make it simple again with a few tricks and tips.

Use your nose

Consciously use your nose to breath, and slowly you’ll train your body to do it subconsciously. You’ll reap all the benefits I have listed above.

Don’t forget about your belly

Humans are “belly breathers,” and just above your stomach is a major muscle in the respiration process, the diaphragm. Proper breathing starts in the nose and then moves to the stomach as your diaphragm contracts, the belly expands, and your lungs fill with air. It is the most efficient way to breathe, as it pulls down on the lungs, creating negative pressure in the chest, resulting in air flowing into your lungs.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Regular exercise keeps your lungs functioning well, and a well-balanced diet can help you stay active. Avoid large meals and foods that cause bloating to prevent the abdomen from pushing up and limiting the diaphragm’s movement.

In truth, poor breathing is a pandemic of its own. The way we breathe is linked to everything from how we think and feel to how we relate to the world, and the health and balance of every system in our body.

To improve your nose breathing, try exercises like alternate nostril breathing, belly breathing, and Breath of Fire. These techniques may help you master nose breathing while enhancing your lung function and reducing stress.

Tape your mouth shut

This may seem weird, but there are several products designed to help keep your mouth shut while sleeping. Over the years I have recommended some of my patients to place elastic style medical tape across their lips before bed.

Now this doesn’t mean taping one’s mouth shut – a small amount placed vertically stimulates the nerves without making you feel like your breathing or mouth is restricted. This helps you to both consciously and subconsciously keep your mouth shut and to breathe through your nose. Often it will only take a week or two to retrained yourself back to healthy breathing.

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