We can live several weeks without food, a couple of days without water, but no more than a few minutes without air. Given its importance, it is quite amazing how little emphasis is given to how we breathe. Noses were made for breathing, mouths for eating. Yet, many people mouth breathe. Mouth breathing negatively affects wellbeing, and may contribute to conditions including asthma, sinus, gum disease, snoring, sleep apnoea, anxiety and possibly hypertension and obesity. Babies naturally breathe through their noses, and it’s only with allergy, a cold or some other cause of nasal congestion that a life-long habit of mouth breathing is formed.
What is so important about the nose?
However big your schnoz on your face, it is a lot bigger on the inside. The scrolled bones of the nasal turbinates take up a large amount of head space. Their function is to warm, filter, moisten and slow down air-flow before reaching the lungs. Compare this with a gulped mouthful that bypasses this triumph of facial architecture, drenching the lungs in cold unfiltered air. Air entering the nose at 6C will be warmed to 30C by the time it touches the back of the throat, and a cozy 37C (body temperature) upon reaching its final destination – the lungs. The nose also filters out much of the pollution, dust and bacteria, allowing these particles to be collected on mucous membranes that line the nasal cavity, enabling them to be swept away.
Compare the surface area of nostrils to that of your mouth. Mouth breathing obviously leads to a larger volume of air intake. When it comes to breath, bigger is not necessarily better. Mouth breathing causes the upper parts of the lungs to expand, stimulating the ‘fight and fight’ sympathetic nervous system, as opposed to nose breathing which expands the lower half of the lungs, switching on the relaxing parasympathetic nervous system. Imagine yourself in a panicky situation, breathing through the mouth, breath high up in the chest and throat. Compare this now to slow, smooth breathing through the nose, the belly expands, you feel relaxed and calm. Nose breathing also increases a natural substance, Nitric Oxide (NO). NO relaxes the smooth muscle lining our airways and arteries, helping to reduce symptoms of asthma and high blood pressure. NO also increases circulation and is a natural antibiotic and antioxidant.
It’s as plain as the nose on your face. Don’t mouth breathe.