Some people breathe through the mouth, but research shows that breathing through the nose generally offers more health benefits.

This article discusses how humans breathe and the differences in nose breathing versus mouth breathing. It also answers some common questions about the two breathing methods.

Image of a person breathing out their mouth on a cold day and creating vaporShare on Pinterest
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The lungs sit inside a person’s chest, or thoracic cavity, on either side of the heart. A large muscle below the lungs, called the diaphragm, powers the process of breathing, or respiration. This muscle contracts in a rhythmic pattern to help draw air into the lungs from the nose or mouth.

To breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and becomes flattened. This increases the size of the thoracic cavity to decrease pressure inside the lungs. This decrease in pressure draws air into the lungs during inspiration or inhalation.

During the exhalation process, the diaphragm relaxes. This decreases the size of the thoracic cavity and increases pressure inside the lungs. Together, these actions expel air from the lungs.

The heart and blood vessels in the body make up the circulatory system. This system transports oxygen and other nutrients from the lungs to other parts of the body.

Breathing problems

For many people, breathing is an unproblematic process. However, in some cases, individuals may experience breathing difficulties that may lead to shortness of breath. Some of the more common reasons for this may include:

Individuals without these health problems may also experience shortness of breath because of improper breathing habits.

Breathing through the nose is important for warming and humidifying the air before it reaches the lungs. The nose also filters the incoming air, removing irritants. Proper breathing should also come from the stomach and diaphragm, not the chest.

An example of improper breathing includes breathing through the mouth. Mouth breathing may be necessary during an intensive workout or when someone has nasal congestion. But in most cases, breathing through the nose is the best option.

Following a healthy and active lifestyle is a good way to promote lung health. Relaxation techniques, such as meditation, may also help support proper breathing habits.

Research suggests that children who often breathe through the mouth develop speech disorders. Doctors may recommend speech therapy to treat these conditions. It may also be useful for developing better breathing techniques.

Nose breathing offers many health benefits that mouth breathing does not. For example, the nose filters, heats, and humidifies air as it passes through the nasal cavity.

This filtering process helps trap certain particles within the nose, which can keep certain microbes or allergens from entering the body. In turn, this may decrease the chance of developing conditions such as colds, allergic reactions, or flu. Because the nose retains some moisture from the air, nose breathing may also prevent nasal dryness.

On the other hand, chronic mouth breathing can lead to detrimental health effects. Some of these may include:

Additionally, mouth breathing does not humidify or clean the air like nose breathing. As such, this way of breathing may increase the risk of developing airborne infections. The delivery of cold and unfiltered air to the lungs may also worsen symptoms of breathing conditions such as asthma.

Physical effects of nose breathing vs. mouth breathing

One 2017 study examined the differences between nose breathing and mouth breathing during exercise. The researchers found that nose breathing during anaerobic exercise decreased the chance of hyperventilating.

They also noted that breathing through the nose produces nitric oxide. This may improve performance during exercise, although future studies are necessary to investigate this further.

Research also indicates that nose breathing may affect a person’s ability to think. Another study found enhancements in brain activity when participants were nose breathing. There was also a strengthening of connections between different brain regions during this breathing type.

The researchers did not observe these cognitive benefits during mouth breathing. They concluded that this breathing method may negatively affect a person’s ability to think.

Mouth breathing in children

Mouth breathing in early life may also restrict typical growth and development. In infants and young children, mouth breathing may decrease levels of growth hormones, which may reduce or slow a child’s growth and development.

Children who breathe through their mouths may even experience changes to their mouth or jaw structure. The position of the jaw bone may change over time in children who rely on mouth breathing. Additionally, mouth breathing may also affect the angle of certain teeth within the mouth.

Below are some of the most common questions and answers about nose and mouth breathing.

Do people get more oxygen through the nose or mouth?

Research shows that breathing through the mouth decreases the activity of respiratory muscles. It also reduces the expansion of the diaphragm muscle, leading to lower efficiency during mouth breathing.

A person’s respiratory muscles are more engaged during inhalation when they breathe through their nose, so their lungs can take in more oxygen. This increases the amount of oxygen a person’s body takes in, making nose breathing the more effective option.

How can someone stop mouth breathing?

In certain cases, mouth breathing may occur due to an issue with structures in the nose or mouth. Surgical treatment or dental devices may be necessary for these instances.

A person may find that lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques help them develop better breathing habits.

Anyone looking to change their breathing habits should speak with a doctor. The treatments may depend on any underlying conditions a person has.

Why is it better to breathe through the nose?

The nose cleanses and humidifies air before it enters the body. This reduces the chance of developing infections and improves airflow into the lungs. Breathing through the nose also increases the amount of oxygen circulating through the blood.

Nose breathing provides more oxygen than mouth breathing and may help protect individuals from infections.

Mouth breathing may be necessary when a person has a cold, but generally, it offers fewer health benefits than nose breathing. It may also increase the risk of developing infections or worsen symptoms of conditions such as asthma. Chronic mouth breathing early in life may affect a person’s face and jaw structure.

People who often practice mouth breathing may consider speaking with a medical professional to develop a plan to improve their breathing patterns.