At what point is mouth breathing risky?

Emobileclinic Trending Topic: Mouth Breathing

Breathing is a significant condition of human health, once it ceased, life is gone. Mouth breathing describes the inhalation and exhalation of air through the mouth rather than through the nose. Breathing through the mouth is seen to be a habit for some people; however, in some other, it usually indicates an underlying problem such as nasal congestion or respiratory problems where oxygen exchange is insufficient. It may also be seen in cardiac conditions and other systemic diseases.

When mouth breathing calls for attention?

Air enters the nasal cavity through the nostrils. The hairs and mucus secreted in the nose trap dust and microbes from the air that flows in. The turbinate air further slows down the movement of air as well as heats and moisturizes it. Smell receptors (olfactory receptors) in the nasal passages allows a person to detect chemical stimuli in the air and also contributes to taste.

Since the mouth lacks these hairs, dust and microbes may not be trapped before entering deeper into the airways. The saliva of the mouth does have some mucus but not to the same extent as the nose. Therefore people who breathe through the mouth are also prone to dryness of the mouth. Although smell may not always be considered to be vital, the lack of it can affect appetite, mood and sometimes even occupational activities in people who mouth breathe.


Many of the causes of mouth breathing may be similar to the causes of difficulty breathing (dyspnea). They are as follows:

Rhinitis: it is nose inflammation. It refers to the mucosal lining the inside of the nasal cavity. It is very common condition and mainly occurs for two reasons – infections or allergies. Infectious rhinitis is usually seen with the common cold and other related upper respiratory tract infections. Allergic rhinitis, commonly referred to as hay fever, is more long term and seen in people with a history of allergies.

Sinusitis: is a common condition that may also be related to infections or allergies. Inflammation of the paranasal sinuses is usually associated with nasal inflammation (rhinitis) and collectively it is known as rhinosinusitis. A deviated septum, trauma to the nose and nasal polyps are some of the other causes of sinusitis.

Adenoiditis: it is an inflammation of the lymphoid tissue. The adenoids are a small mass of lymphoid tissue (similar to the tonsils) located at the back of the nasal cavity.The swelling is usually due to an infection. Adenoiditis is mainly seen in young children but can sometimes occur in adults. It is often associated with tonsillitis.

Airway Disease: multiple lower airway diseases may also lead to mouth breathing although the nasal passages are clear. Mouth breathing in these cases is due to the need to take in more air. The two more common lower airway diseases where mouth breathing may be seen include:

Asthma is where the tiny muscles in the bronchi go into spasm thereby constricting the airways. Swelling of the airways and mucus build up further narrows it. This usually occurs in sequence.

Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchi often caused by infections. It can be acute or chronic. The latter is associated with long term cigarette smoking as part of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Obstructive sleep apnea where the tissue of the throat collapses and thereby blocks the airway. Obesity is a major risk factor.

Lung Diseases: when there is disturbance of gas exchange due to diseased lung tissue may also lead to mouth breathing as a person attempts to take in more air through the mouth. It may be infectious or non-infections in nature.

Pneumonia is inflammation of lung tissue due to an infection. Viruses and bacteria are the more common causes.

Emphysema is the destruction of lung tissue with a loss of elasticity usually as a result of long term smoking. It is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) like chronic bronchitis.

Pneumoconiosis is a lung disease associated with long term inhalation of dust and chemicals that damage lung tissue. Initially there is inflammation but in time there may be scarring of the lung tissue.

Pneumonitis is also inflammation of the lung tissue but usually refers to non-infectious causes as a result of allergies or irritation from substances inhaled in the air, such as molds or bird excrement.

Other unclassified causes

Heart failure as the blood is not adequately circulated. One of the common reasons is a heart attack (myocardial infarction), weakening or stiffening of the heart tissue or heart infections.

Anemia: when the oxygen-carrying component of blood is deficient {iron-deficiency anemia or hemolytic anemia}.

Shock occasioned by blood loss or severe dehydration which reduced the blood volume significantly. It may also arise from severe trauma, anaphylatic reactions, poisoning, “blood poisoning” (infection) and severe burns.

Kidney failure where there is deposit of wastes in the blood and inability to neutralize circulating carbon dioxide may lead to shortness of breath and mouth breathing as a result.

Anxiety and panic attacks may lead to mouth breathing as a result of the nervousness and can also result in hyperventilation.

Central sleep apnea where breathing stops due to signals from the brain (central) not being relayed correctly and the breathing muscles then cease.


See your doctor.

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