Most children, adolescents and adults do not think about how or how often they breathe. A normal human typically breathes through their nares, so as to warm and moisten that traverses our nasal passages. However, some children as well as adults breathe in and out mostly through their mouth instead. This is known as mouth breathing.
Seasonal illness like common cold can cause temporary mouth breathing which is not a cause for concern. Chronic mouth breathing, however, can signal that a child or adult needs additional intervention.
Common causes of mouth breathing in infants and children (Enlarged adenoids and tonsils, birth abnormalities, such as choanal atresia, cleft palate, or Pierre Robin syndrome, nasal foreign body) differs from that of adults with some overlapping conditions like allergies, deviated nasal septum, congestion from infection and nasal polyps.
One of the most common side effects of mouth breathing is an excessively dry mouth . Under normal conditions, saliva continuously washes bacteria from the mouth. If your mouth is dry, however, that bacteria can more readily take hold and cause problems like cavities.
Of major concern is chronic mouth breathing in children. Over time, children whose mouth breathing goes untreated may suffer from abnormal facial and dental development, such as long, narrow faces and mouths, gummy smiles, gingivitis and crooked teeth. The poor sleeping habits that result from mouth breathing can adversely affect growth and academic performance. In addition, mouth breathing can cause poor oxygen concentration in the bloodstream, which can cause high blood pressure, heart problems, sleep apnoea and other medical issues.
Children who mouth breathe typically do not sleep well, causing them to be tired during the day and possibly unable to concentrate on academics. Poor sleep also contributes to poor growth in children.
Some researchers have pointed out how mouth breathing and associated hyperventilation causes and exacerbates asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease and other medical problems.
Breathing through your mouth causes depleted carbon dioxide levels, reduces blood circulation, slows down your brain and reflexes and even causes spells of dizziness and sometimes unconsciousness.
When you breathe through your mouth or over-breath, the lungs are overstimulated with oxygen but the airways become dried and vasoconstriction, so an inefficient amount of oxygen is actually absorbed through the alveoli in the lungs. By breathing through mouth, you are failing your heart, brain, and all other organs by denying optimal oxygenation. Even though you may have no cardiac disease symptoms, you may develop arrhythmias and other heart ailments.
Mouth breathing is a highly treatable condition that a person should not hesitate to seek treatment for. The earlier that a person seeks treatment, the less likely they are to experience any chronic and long-term complications of mouth breathing.
Contributed by Dr. Srikanta J T, Consultant in Dept. of Paediatric Pulmonology, Aster RV Hospital