Why You Should Be Breathing Through Your Nose

Curious about the importance of nasal breathing? In this episode of We Nose Noses, the experts are discussing the latest health focus, nasal breathing. From the intricate mechanisms of air filtration to the surprising impact on sleep quality and overall well-being, NJENT Doctors Reddy, Smith, and Undavia unravel the science behind why breathing through your nose is more than just a natural instinct—it’s a key to unlocking a range of health advantages.

What you’ll learn

  • How the nose’s intricate filtration system provides for heating, humidifying, and filtering air, optimizing oxygen exchange in the lungs.
  • Why nasal breathing is associated with taste and smell, and how it enhances flavor perception and contributes to a better quality of life during sleep.
  • What the role of nitric oxide plays in nasal breathing and it’s ability to act as a natural air purifier against pollutants and allergens.

For a deeper dive into the transformative world of nasal breathing and health, make sure to hit that subscribe button and stay tuned for upcoming episodes. If you have questions or seek expert advice on ear, nose, or throat matters, reach out to us. Schedule your consultation today at our Marlton, New Jersey location by visiting NJENT.com or call 609-710-NOES (6673).

Listen to the audio version below.

Audio Transcript:

Dr. Reddy: Hey guys, today’s topic we are going to be discussing why is breathing through your nose important? What are the benefits of nasal breathing? So the nose plays an obvious important function allowing you to breathe through your nose, but what if you’re just breathing through your mouth? Is that an issue? Is that a problem? So maybe we’ll just go one by one and go over one thing at a time what the benefits are.

Dr. Undavia: Sure.

Dr. Smith: So, you know, we often talk about, with patients with nasal obstruction, too bad. Um, you know, the most simplistic thing that we all think about is what is the kind of the one main job with the nose, which we all talk about the heating, the humidification, the filtering of the air as it gets one, one thing. So the, the nose has, as we’ve talked about in our prior podcasts, has this kind of filtration system with the turbinates and the turbinates then help heat, humidify the air and filter it out so when it gets to the lungs, there’s better oxygen exchange occurring in the lungs and that warm humidified air. So that’s one main function that we all talk about, but there’s tons of other.

Dr. Reddy: And how does it humidify the air?

Dr. Smith: Sure. So the nose has like mucus secreting glands and as the air comes across those turbinates, it picks up humidification along those, the moisture in the nasal cavity helping to heat and humidify. So when you breathe through the mouth, there’s not a whole lot of surface area that the air is gonna come across as far as the humidification abilities. So it’s coming across a lot of surface in the nasal cavity because of the turbinates and the way that the airflow is laminar going across those turbinates. And so there’s not a whole lot of air that doesn’t come across those turbinates in route to the lungs. But if you breathe through the mouth, a lot of air comes across and goes to the lungs without contact with the mucosal or mucus secreting surface. And so a lot of the air can come in unhumidified, unfiltered and unheated. And so that can be an irritant to the lungs and it causes some issues with oxygen exchange and gas exchange out of the lungs as well. And so the surface area is a big thing with the nasal cavity.

Dr. Reddy: Yeah. The other thing is that there’s blood vessels that are very close to the surface and the nose that allow for exchange of heat and humidity as well.

Dr. Undavia: And there’s actually a lot of surface area in the mouth that you would think because the mouth makes so much saliva, it actually makes a liter and a half of saliva that you could humidify the air as it goes through the lungs, but it’s so inefficient in the mouth that what you end up doing is just evaporating a lot of that water into the air. And so you are actually becoming inefficient. You’re supposed to swallow a liter and a half of saliva so that you recycle that fluid, but because you keep your mouth open, it actually evaporates it.

Dr. Reddy: Yep. And that brings us to a good point about one of the benefits of breathing through your nose is that you’re not breathing through your mouth. And that the saliva doesn’t dry out while you’re sleeping at night. And the saliva is very important because it protects your teeth from developing things like dental cavities and things like that. Do you want to go over another second?

Dr.Undavia: Second one, um, I can talk about it’s taste and smell. Um, so your smell receptors are in your nose. Your taste receptors are in your mouth, but believe it or not, in order to taste, you must smell. So about 80% of your taste is actually smelling and it’s because the food, you know, the smell particles are dissolved in the air. They get up high into your nasal vault where the smell receptors are. They come from a nerve called the olfactory nerve or the smelling nerve. And the air needs to get to that area to be able to detect the smell that’s dissolved in the air. And so in order to smell and taste, you need to have nasal breathing. Yeah.

Dr. Reddy: Just to expand on that a little bit, flavor, the flavor of food is comprised of approximately two thirds of smell and one third of taste. And so when a lot of people are eating food, they think, oh, you just smell the food first through your nose and you get the flavor from the smell, which is partially true. The other phenomenon that happens when you’re chewing food is there’s a process called retro olfaction eating the food, you’re chewing the food in your mouth, and the smell odors, the odor molecules go up to your nose from the back of your soft palate and goes up into your smell center and allows you to better appreciate the flavor profiles.

Dr. Smith: Yeah. That’s what a lot of people refer to as their palate. So palate for wines, palate for foods. That’s that mechanism there. So you touched on some of the issues with sleep and breathing with the mouth open that can affect the drying. Do you wanna talk about like this, or I can talk about the sleep benefits of breathing through the nose? Sure, yeah, go ahead. So one of the main improvements with sleep in breathing through the nose is the flow of air coming through the back of the nasal cavity, which can also help stem open the soft tissues within the pharynx or the throat. And so by breathing better through the nose and keeping the mouth shut, the nasal airflow will help stem some of the palate open so the palate and the soft palate doesn’t collapse and obstruct posteriorly. But it also, by breathing through the nose, helps keep the mouth shut. Just by keeping the mouth shut and keeping the jaw kind of locked and forward, a lot of the muscles that are attached to the tongue and the upper part of the larynx or the voice box don’t slip back into the airway and cause obstruction too.

So often nasal breathing is extremely important in sleep apnea and sleep disturbed breathing and snoring and that it’s not just the air flow through the nose helping keep the palate, but it’s also the other things that happen as well with the mouth staying shut, the muscles staying kind of more advanced and towards the front so things don’t slip backwards and cause obstruction.

Dr. Undavia: There’s also subjective things that happen when you breathe through your nose as you sleep. And those are also been studied just by patient surveys and they ask what their quality of life is during the day. They ask about whether they’re able to accomplish your tasks without being distracted. They’re able to focus more, they’re happier. And so sleeping better through the nose, or sleeping better by breathing through the nose can help those qualities as well.

Dr. Reddy: Okay. Another benefit of breathing through your nose is there’s a chemical called nitric oxide that’s released. And nitric oxide is only released when you’re breathing through your nose where the sinuses start releasing this chemical that acts in different ways in your body to help you breathe better. And when you’re breathing through your mouth, nitric oxide is not released. So what nitric oxide does is it has many functions in the body, but some of those functions include it dilates your vasculature a little bit in your body. So it improves overall circulation in your body. Also, which affects high blood pressure. So breathing through the nose can affect blood pressure and hypertension issues as well.

Dr. Undavia: Yep. And that’s why sleep apnea can give you hypertension.

Dr. Reddy: It also decreases, you know, pulmonary vascular, um, resistance in your lungs and improves oxygenation in your lungs. So when you’re breathing through your nose, your oxygenation levels are actually slightly higher than when you breathe through your mouth. And this is one of the reasons why, you know, marathon runners and aerobic activities, you’re generally coached, right? To breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Dr. Smith: There’s even some bactericidal and bacteriostatic effects from the nitric oxide in the nasal cavity that can help decrease some of the bad actors that are involved in chronic sinus disease. And so that can help keep the healthy biome within the sinuses and nasal cavity as well by breathing better through the nose and release of that nitric oxide.

Dr. Reddy: Yeah. And you know how everybody buys, nowadays there’s a lot of people are buying HEPA filters for their house and yep, that’s me. And you know, Dyson air purifiers, all these fancy things, but we have the best air purifier available, which is your nose. So your nose is a way that naturally filters out pollutants and allergens and viruses and bacteria from getting down into your lungs. Can you explain how that happens? So it does it mainly one of two ways. One is just your nose hairs kind of help some of the big stuff from going in, right? Like mold and things like that. But then the lining of your nose is lined by a special layer of cells, the medical term is called pseudostratified columnar epithelium, which is the same lining that lines your lungs. And that lining has these little things called cilia that kind of help filter out the air and also help move certain pathogens and stuff from your nose and into your stomach. What happens with smoking well, the cilia just stopped working. Yep, the cilia just stopped working.

Dr. Undavia: Last one that I was thinking about was that breathing through your nose helps your ears. Because there’s a tube that connects the ear to the nose and it equalizes the pressure in the ear so that you can hear normally. Everybody knows that when they’re trying to fly and they’re trying to pop their ears, what they’re doing is popping that tube open. And we know that when your nose is not working well, whether it’s because you have a deviated septum or turbinates that are enlarged or that you have really big adenoids and they’re compressing the eustachian tube, the ear doesn’t work well and people have problems equalizing the pressure in their ear or they’re getting ear infections or they just feel like everything’s muffled.

Dr. Smith: Yep, so another one that sometimes I talk about but not that often and probably should talk about more is the sympathetic and parasympathetic tone within the nasal cavity. So breathing through the nose helps trigger and stimulate parasympathetic response within our body. So the sympathetic is like the fight or flight that’s more stress-related. The parasympathetic is more of a relaxation, recuperation type of response that the body has and breathing through your nose and stimulates more parasympathetic tone, which can be extremely helpful in some other like higher executive things like stress and focus, attention. You know, so stress and anxiety and some of those other things can be triggered with your poor nasal breathing. And so if you think about it, whenever you get like a stuffy congested nose from a head cold or something, it often drives a stress response and people get very stressed out and go to the drug store and try to find everything possible to be able to breathe through their nose because it does provoke quite a lot of a stressful stimulus not being able to breathe through your nose. And so over time, that lack of equal and kind of opposing sympathetic parasympathetic tone from not breathing through the nasal cavity can affect other like higher executive things within the brain, in the stress systems, et cetera. And one other thing that we kind of sometimes talk about and we’re mainly talking about like all ages here, but if you go back to kind of pre-full development, so in kids, nasal breathing is extremely important in developing facial structure. And so we talk about some of the facial structures that can occur and kids that don’t breathe well through their nose. Now in kids, a lot of times it may be some allergies, but also adenoid enlargement can contribute to this. So it’s a well-known feature that kids who don’t breathe through their nose and are mouth breathers tend to have changes in their facial structure long-term that can affect some of these things going forward into adulthood.

Dr. Undavia: They have like these elongated faces, the body is trying to make room for them to breathe by making all this space in the back of the mouth.

Dr. Reddy: Hmm. Nice. Anything else to add? No, I think that’s-

Dr. Undavia: Actually, the parasympathetic, um, uh, information that you said really makes sense. I never thought about it. Every single septal perforation patient that just can’t get the air through their nose are very anxious.

Dr. Smith: Yeah.

Dr. Reddy: And there are a lot of people that do those breathing exercises now, mindfulness, mindful meditation, breathing exercises that significantly help a lot of those things for sure.

Well, I think that’s all we have for today’s episode. Thank you. Excellent.

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