Healthy breathing = healthy individual: Your nose knows

Written by Kathryn Khiroya | 30 April, 2020

Health Breathing

The area of contact between alveoli (the tiny air sacs in the lungs) and blood vessels in adult humans is between 50 to 100 square metres, enabling immense exposure to atmospheric air. Our skin on the other hand? Approximately two square metres.

We’ve moved beyond just thinking about cleansed skin to having great regard for its nourishment. In the current environment where the thorough washing of our skin, specifically our hands, is imperative to preventing the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, we are very conscious of not just hand washing but the technique of handwashing.

What does this have to do with your nose? Just like contact with pathogenic bacteria and virus via our skin can make us sick, could our breathing technique also make us sick?

A German physician, Dr Buteyko, undertook a practical assignment during his medical training in the late 1940s involving the monitoring of breathing volume of patients. He documented a stark relationship: the sicker patients became, the heavier they breathed.

Many humans sleep, walk, rest and work with their mouth open; their nose appears to be nothing more ornamental. So, what purpose does the nose have? In essence, our nose is the key to functional breathing.

“It has been estimated that three-quarters of the bacteria entering the nose are deposited on the mucus blanket and are thus eliminated. In fact, the mucus has its own antibacterial action.”
(Ballentine 1979; Holmes 1950 cited in The Hyperventilation Syndrome by Robert Fried).

What does functional breathing look like compared to dysfunctional breathing?

Traits of Functional Breathing

  • Mouth closed
  • Nasal breathing
  • Silent, quiet
  • Slow
  • Regular cadence
  • Calm and calming
  • Controlled with ability to keep under control
  • A natural pause between inhalation and exhalation
  • Adequately deep to naturally expand lowest ribs
  • Unnoticeable or minimal movement
  • Effortless
  • Light

Traits of Dysfunctional Breathing

  • Mouth open
  • Mouth breathing
  • Noisy
  • Regular sighing
  • Regular sniffing
  • Irregular, erratic, fast
  • Holding of breath (apnoea)
  • Taking large breaths prior to talking
  • Yawning with big breaths
  • Upper chest movement
  • Obvious visible movement
  • Effortful
  • Heavy – day and night

What effect does dysfunctional breathing have compared to functional breathing?

Effects of Dysfunctional Breathing

  • Cooling, drying of airway
  • 42% more moisture expelled via droplets through the mouth
  • Nasal stuffiness
  • Tends towards over breathing and
  • Hyperventilation
  • Constricts/narrows airways
  • Suffocation sensation
  • Reduces oxygen delivery at the cell
  • Sympathetic nervous system dominant
  • Chronic hyperventilation - breathing volume is excessive during sleep, rest and physical exercise.
  • Excess use of energy contributing to fatigue
  • Contributes to a blocked nose, snoring, insomnia, fatigue, coughing, wheezing, breathlessness, exercise-induced asthma

Effects of Functional Breathing

  • Warming, moistening of airways
  • Antiviral
  • Antibacterial
  • Filtering
  • Regulates air volume
  • Dilates airways
  • Vasodilating (increased nitric oxide)
  • Greater gas exchange in lungs
  • Increased oxygen uptake
  • Parasympathetic nervous system dominant
  • Supports healthy saliva production
  • Improved symptoms related to fatigue, asthma, and chronic illnesses
  • Overall improvement in vitality – better sleep, better energy, better focus, resilience

Am I a mouth breather? How can I tell?

  • Dry mouth on waking
  • Bad breath
  • Susceptible to skin conditions i.e. Acne rosacea, psoriasis, eczema
  • Children susceptible to crooked teeth, crowding, bed wetting, sleep disturbances and disorders
  • Higher risk of gum disease and tooth decay
  • In adults - grinders, sleep apnoea, snorers, stress, chronic fatigue

Why do I breathe through my mouth?

Air hunger is the most common driver of mouth breathing. It is the feeling of suffocation, be this mild or severe, when breathing through the nose. You just don’t feel like you can get an adequate amount of breath.

This may be due to a few factors:

  • A small nose
  • Deviated septum
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Hay fever
  • ‘Stuffy nose’
  • Habit

Why do we over breathe?

  • Stress
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Diet comprising processed foods and overeating
  • Jobs/tasks involved in speaking a lot
  • Mixed messages regarding breathing techniques
  • Symptoms related to asthma and other chronic respiratory conditions
  • High set temperatures within the home and indoor environments
  • Genetic predisposition/familial habits

How do I start to nasal breathe?

The first step is to become more mindful of your current breathing habits. In time with your breath, use your index finger to draw your inhale and exhale, like a continuous wave of the ocean. Now imagine that the wave of the ocean is reducing in size and pace as you reduce the size and pace of your breath. Close your lips and continue to draw the breath, making it slower and quieter and deeper. Notice your breath’s flow and cadence, and the calm it brings. Try this upon waking, retiring or when you sense your emotions shifting your breath back towards dysfunctional traits.

Nasal breathing is a calmer breathing pattern, yet you may find it intense to begin with. With practice, it will improve and you’ll soon wonder how you ever coped with mouth breathing.


Kathryn Khiroya

Kathryn Khiroya is a Clinical Nutritionist, Buteyko Breathing practitioner, Personal Trainer & Pilates Instructor, living and practicing in Epping, Sydney. Kathryn is a great advocate for community health + wellbeing and is actively involved in school and community committees and activities where she loves serving alongside her husband and two daughters. Kathryn completed her degree in Nutritional Medicine and Dietetics at Endeavour College Sydney in 2019. She thoroughly enjoyed the journey her degree took her on – the journey being as much about learning – the science – as it was about becoming a practitioner – the art.

Kathryn is now using her skills and passion to serve others through establishing a new practice in her area called Sagely Clinic. While only a fledgling business, Sagely Clinic’s mission is deeply grounded; the Sagely Clinic approach tailors simple yet profoundly powerful, Nutritional Medicine and health + wellness practices that place individuals at the centre of their health journey. Listening to, informing and involving individuals in designing health care plans are crucial to these plans being actionable, meaningful and valuable. Kathryn seeks to empower every person to proactively ease their dis-ease and achieve the health they desire and deserve.

Read more by Kathryn Khiroya

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