Questions for and about mouth-breathers
September 23, 2023 9:26 AM   Subscribe

A few times yesterday, during a procedure with the dentist, he instructed me to breath through my nose. No problem for me, but I've become aware there's some percentage of people who cannot, who say their sinuses are always blocked, and have been for decades, even "All my life." (I'm related to one.) Were you one of the permanently congested, whose problem was cured?

Prompted by this recent ask I've been looking into this chronic symptom and I learn it may be caused by turbinate hypertrophy or nasal polyps (instead of too much mucus). I myself would find it intolerable, those rare times when I have a cold, breathing solely through my mouth dries me out terribly, so I would seek treatment. But my relative doesn't, is okay with it; however, I think his doctor should know, before his dentist makes the same request. Maybe you found relief via Neti pot irrigation, Breathe Rite strips, or even just some time in the steam room? Please share your experience, so I can encourage my relative to visit an ENT.
posted by Rash to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I got an allergy test from an actual allergist and then got allergy drugs that targeted the specific allergic responses I was having, not just me guessing with random OTC treatments. I could breathe through both nostrils at once, for the first time, incredible.
posted by phunniemee at 9:31 AM on September 23, 2023 [1 favorite]

Not me but multiple family members had this and it was a deviated septum.
posted by capricorn at 9:36 AM on September 23, 2023 [2 favorites]

I stopped eating wheat a decade ago and a lifetime of runny noses, post nasal drip, near complete nasal congestion, and a host of other symptoms just disappeared.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:42 AM on September 23, 2023 [3 favorites]

I had a permanently blocked nose for most of my childhood, to the extent that I remember genuine surprise at learning you were supposed to be able to breathe through it. Allergy pills (and growing out of the catching-colds-all-the-time phase) improved matters significantly, although I still wouldn't want to rely on being able to breathe through my nose.

BreatheRight strips help at night, when my nose tends to feel stuffier.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:46 AM on September 23, 2023

It’s me, it’s annoying, and visits to allergists and ENTs have resulted in “ eh, there’s nothing we can really do about it that would give you enough relief to be worth the pain and recovery for you.”

But it can be pretty much completely relieved temporarily by one of those nasal sprays like Afrin that you can’t use for more than a few days in a row. So if I needed to have the ability to reliably breathe through my nose for a medical procedure I’d take that ahead of time.
posted by Stacey at 9:55 AM on September 23, 2023 [1 favorite]

I had my adenoids removed when I was a tween and my nose (and my world) opened up. As I recall, the ENT was not even sure it would have an effect but the surgeon removed what he described as "a huge amount of adenoidal tissue" and I was actually able to breathe through my nose maybe for the first time in my life. I still had some problems, but a lot of those cleared up as I got older. Nowadays I suspect I do still have more-obstructed nasal passages than most. I probably mouth-breathe a bit more than the average person and I'm susceptible to lingering upper respiratory symptoms (stuffy nose lingers for weeks after cold/flu/COVID) but some of that might just be that I'm hyper-aware of it because it interferes with my #1 hobby, singing.

But before I had my adenoids out I remember feeling panicky, like I was going to suffocate, at various points when I couldn't breathe through my mouth (getting molds taken of my teeth at the orthodontist, making plaster masks of our own faces in middle school art class). Before those experiences I knew I *didn't* breathe through my nose, but I guess I thought I could if I really tried? I watched my classmates sticking straws up their noses to breathe through during that mask-making class and thinking, "I don't know how the heck that could possibly work but if everyone else is doing it, I'm sure I can do it too!" (Cut to 5 minutes later as I am clawing the plaster strips off my mouth.)
posted by mskyle at 9:59 AM on September 23, 2023 [1 favorite]

I was permanently congested until I had surgery twice during college to enlarge my nasal passages. It was probably excessive and I ended up bleeding a lot after the second time.
posted by earthstarvoyager at 10:05 AM on September 23, 2023

My nose was completely, totally blocked. I almost never had any relief from it. I went to an allergist who looked up my nose and said "you have nasal polyps." He sent me to an ENT who confirmed and did surgery -- he scraped out the polyps, and while he was in there he corrected my deviated septum and made the openings between my sinuses larger so that they could drain more easily. The recovery was bad for about 2 weeks, then ok after that.

It was life changing. I can now close my mouth for more than 10 seconds. I can kiss more deeply. I sleep better. I no longer get sinus infections every 5 minutes.
posted by OrangeDisk at 10:07 AM on September 23, 2023

There's a recently released pop-sci book on the topic you might find interesting: Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
posted by stray at 10:12 AM on September 23, 2023 [2 favorites]

Like mskyle, I couldn't breathe through my nose until my adenoids were out, which happened as a kid - but even after, I just wasn't in the habit of nose breathing and so didn't (and even found it stressful - I also remember getting orthodontics molds frightening), and it wasn't until reading Nestor's book as an adult that I felt motivated to change. Anyway, it might be worth encouraging them to listen to one of Nestor's interviews, and then seeing a doctor to figure out what the issue is.
posted by coffeecat at 11:08 AM on September 23, 2023

I'm a semi sufferer from this. I can definitely breathe through my nose most of the time, though honestly it always feels a little congested. But it seems to get worse at the extent that I have stopped using my CPAP (with a nasal mask) because I can't breathe with it on, even though it's forcing air up my nose. I've never had a dentist ask me to breathe through my nose, so I guess it's not a problem all the time.

I'm a side sleeper, and often (not always) my stuffiness clears itself when I lay down for a while.

I have used (with minimal success) saline nasal sprays and allergy pills.
posted by lhauser at 11:10 AM on September 23, 2023

I’ve never been able to breath out of my nose and saw multiple allergists and ENT’s in my 20’s who always said it was optional surgery to get my septum fixed and polyps removed. I was “too busy” to get it done and they weren’t overly persuasive. Now in my 40’s I regret not taking action. What ultimately worked for me was moving out of a high environmental allergy city to an area that seems to have less effect on me. (I didn’t move because of allergies).
posted by gillianr at 12:25 PM on September 23, 2023

Yep, I was an almost total mouthbreather until I was about 40, when it was discovered that I had nasal polyps and had them removed. Before that, it wasn't really a feeling of congestion per se... more just like my nasal breathing holes were too small to take the size breaths I needed. Breathing through my mouth didn't bother me in itself—it worked great, in fact—but 1) having no nasal flow made my speaking voice more nasally 2) I noticed that in photos my mouth was always slightly open, 3) my snoring was off-the-charts horrible, and 4) I couldn't smell anything very well.

After the surgery, I wouldn't say breathing through my nose is exactly as easy as through my mouth, but it's about 80% so. Enough so that I nearly always breathe through my nose and keep my mouth shut almost all of the time. Still don't like my voice, but it's a little less nasal, my snoring has improved, and I can smell stuff now.

But the best result of getting my polyps removed was that it stopped the infection deep in my head that was apparently eating away at the rim of my eye socket. My doctor explained that left unchecked, the edge of my eye socket could become fragile to the point of breaking with minimal pressure. Glad to have headed all that off.
posted by Rykey at 12:52 PM on September 23, 2023

Oh and so as not abuse Edit... my sneezing and susceptibility to runny noses due to allergies are way better now.
posted by Rykey at 12:53 PM on September 23, 2023

I have had my deviated septum repaired and a turbinate reduction. Being able to breathe is nice, not having constant sinus infections is really nice.
posted by deadwax at 3:33 PM on September 23, 2023

As an adult I could finally take my allergies (dust mites, some trees & grasses) seriously and did all the things - mattress protectors, less carpet, air purifiers, meds, and allergy shots.
posted by bizzyb at 5:44 PM on September 23, 2023

I was a lifelong mouth breather until my early 40s. I snored and I coughed myself awake because I couldn't breathe through my nose at night, so my mouth dried out and made me cough.

Nose strips never worked. Neti pot didn't work but was worth a try.

What fixed it all was an ENT saying my tonsils were enormous and they had to come out ASAP. While she was doing the surgery, she also shaved down my turbinates.

A couple of weeks out from the surgery, she took the splints out of my nose, and suddenly I could breathe so well through my nose it felt like there was an polar wind blowing through my face. I didn't even have to force myself to inhale. There was suddenly more room to breathe through my nose. And now I sleep with my mouth closed, unless I have a cold.

Absolutely changed my life for the better. Do urge your relative to talk to an ENT.
posted by Orkney Vole at 5:16 AM on September 24, 2023


Surgery for deviated septum I was unaware of. Apparently broken noses are common during birth. My mind was blown when I realized that people breathe through both nostrils at the same time - I didn't even realize that was a thing until I started asking friends post-surgery.
posted by esoteric things at 12:23 AM on September 29, 2023

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