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Why Mouth Breathing Can Be a Problem

Dr. Alex Immerman teaching a patient

There are a variety of circumstances that can contribute to increased levels of stress. Some common examples include work pressures, family problems, money issues, and health concerns. But in recent years, athletic physical therapy has proven that a lesser-known stress contributor is actually how you breathe.

According to Seth Oberst, DPT, there are two primary ways humans breathe — either through the mouth or the nose. When mouth-breathing is your primary mode of respiration, you are actually stressing your system more than if you were to breathe through your nose.

When you breathe through the mouth, your head is forced to move forward to maintain an open airway. Unfortunately, this causes a cascade of negative effects that can put even more stress on the body:

  • Taking air in through the mouth isn’t effectively mixed with nitric oxide, so you have to inhale more air than necessary.
  • This over-breathing increases your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) activity.
  • As you inhale more and more air, your heart rate increases, along with muscle tension and stress levels.
  • While you may be physically or mentally exhausted at night, you end up tossing and turning — waking up feeling more tired because your brain is starving for oxygen.

All this to say, how you breathe is important. While you can certainly survive by mouth-breathing, it will be difficult to thrive. If nose breathing is difficult for you, start by doing 3–5 minutes of dedicated nose-breathing per day to increase your comfort levels.

If you want to learn even more about proper breath-form and reducing stress, our experienced athletic physical therapy team in Bethesda/Chevy Chase can help!

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