Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week, Dr. Zack Turner talks about why breathing through your nose is better than breathing through your mouth.
A question: Hi Dr. Zack, have I been breathing wrong my whole life? Sipping coffee, a friend of mine told me they stayed up all night watching YouTube videos about breathing, and that some doctors claim that breathing through your mouth is unhealthy. Now I’m pretty good at picking up red flags these days, with both men and health tips, but this one got me really confused. Is that correct? Or should I not make a mistake? Maya, 30 years old, Sydney
Answer: I think this is a great topic, and a great question especially because it makes us all rethink the simple things our bodies do every day. Just because it happens every day doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
I’m on your friend’s side on this. We all breathe spontaneously, without much thought about it. It’s important to pay attention to how you breathe, because it’s healthier to breathe through your nose rather than through your mouth. The simplest reason is that nasal breathing is more natural and helps your body use the air you inhale more effectively.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Well, that’s not me. I’m breathing through my nose, I’m doing that right now.” Well, that’s because you think about it. About 30-50 percent of adults breathe through their mouths, especially early in the day. Breathing through the mouth can lead to health problems, and cause things like bad breath and dry mouth.
The beauty of your nose is that it is perfectly designed to breathe safely. It can filter foreign particles due to its nasal hair. It can moisten the inhaled air making it easier for your lungs to use, and it produces nitric oxide which is a vasodilator. This is just a scientific way of saying that it dilates blood vessels to help improve the circulation of oxygen in your body.
Your mouth is perfectly designed for eating, drinking, and talking, but it doesn’t have any of the great features your nose has. Breathing through the mouth increases the risk of asthma, tooth decay, gingivitis, exposure to foreign particles such as bacteria and pathogens, and snoring.
Breathing doesn’t have to be too complicated – you can make it simple again with a few tricks and tips.
use your nose
Use your nose consciously to breathe, and slowly you will train your body to do so unconsciously. You will reap all the benefits mentioned above.
Don’t forget your belly
Humans “breathe from the abdomen,” and just above your stomach is a major muscle in the breathing process, the diaphragm. Proper breathing begins in the nose and then moves to the stomach where the diaphragm contracts, the abdomen expands, and your lungs fill with air. It is the most effective method of breathing, as it tightens the lungs, which creates negative pressure in the chest, which causes air to flow into your lungs.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Regular exercise keeps your lungs working well, and eating a balanced diet can help you stay active. Avoid large meals and foods that cause bloating to prevent the abdomen from rising and limit the movement of the diaphragm.
In fact, poor breathing is an epidemic in itself. The way we breathe is linked to everything from the way we think and feel to how we relate to the world and the health and balance of every system in our bodies.
To improve your nasal breathing, try exercises such as alternate nasal breathing, abdominal breathing, and fire breathing. These techniques may help you master nasal breathing while improving lung function and reducing stress.
Close your mouth with duct tape
This may sound strange, but there are many products designed to help keep your mouth shut while you sleep. Over the years, I have recommended some of my patients put elastic medical tape on their lips before bed.
Now this does not mean closing your mouth with duct tape – a small amount placed vertically stimulates the nerves without making your breathing or mouth feel restricted. This helps you keep your mouth closed, whether consciously or subconsciously, and breathe through your nose. It often only takes a week or two to retrain yourself to healthy breathing.
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