All new born babies and the vast majority of animals nasal breathe. Dogs pant through their mouths to regulate their body temperature but for the most part their mouth is closed.
However, it is estimated that at least 50% of children and adults habitually breathe through their mouths to the detriment of their health, looks and overall quality of life.
This blog by Patrick McKeown, examines the functions of the nose, how to unblock it and make the switch to nasal breathing.
Your nose serves a number of very important functions designed to condition incoming air before it enters the lungs. Lets briefly look at the role of the nose:
Filters: Your nose is lined with a mucus membrane which filters germs, bacteria and larger airborne particles.
“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”1
Warms: Your nose brings air to a better temperature and therefore reduces the likelihood of airway cooling.
“Air swirling through turbinates is warmed rapidly: entering the nose at 6 degrees (43 degrees F) for instance will be warmed to 30 degrees (86 degrees F) by the time it reaches the back of the nose, and to body temperature as it passes the trachea.”2
Moistens: Your nose contains a moist mucous blanket that slightly moistens air thereby reducing the dehydration affect.
Regulates volume: Your nostrils are a smaller entry than your mouth. This in turn creates resistance and results in a more quiet, calm and better breathing volume.
Teeth and Gums: Mouth breathing results in a dry mouth, which creates an ideal environment to harbour bacteria. This contributes to gum disease and teeth decay. In addition, all children who habitually breathe through their mouths have a far greater likelihood of developing crooked teeth. 
Mouth breathing looks dreadful. Nasal breathing in public is considered to be more socially acceptable and attractive than mouth breathing.
How to unblock your nose
Your nose gets blocked due to breathing too much. Blood vessels inflame and greater amounts of mucus are secreted thus making breathing through it more difficult. A vicious circle ensues because, as your nose gets blocked, you switch to mouth breathing. This involves an even greater loss of CO2 resulting in even more congestion.
This exercise is very effective for decongesting your nose in just a few minutes;
- Sit up straight.
- Take a small breath in through your nose, if possible, and a small breath out. If your nose is quite blocked, take a tiny breath in through the corner of your mouth.
- Pinch your nose with your fingers and hold your breath. Keep your mouth closed.
- Gently nod your head or sway your body until you feel that you cannot hold your breath any longer. (Hold your nose until you feel a strong desire to breathe.)
- When you need to breathe in, let go of your nose and breathe gently through it, in and out, with your mouth closed.
- Calm your breathing as soon as possible.
If your nose does not become totally free, wait about 30 seconds until your breathing has recovered before performing this exercise again. You will need to do this a number of times before your nose is completely unblocked.
After doing this exercise many times your nose will be unblocked. You might also feel warm and more alert due to the dilatation of blood vessels. There’s also a free video that you can watch to help you with this exercise.
Getting used to nasal breathing
Perform this exercise each time that your nose becomes blocked. Even if you have a cold, make sure to breathe through your nose. You might think that you cannot clear your nose when you have a heavy cold, but you can. If you do have a head cold, close your mouth and reduce your breathing throughout the day. This will both shorten the duration of your cold and greatly reduce the likelihood of it going to your chest. I have observed hundreds of asthmatics dramatically reduce head colds and chest infections after they learned to nasal breathe and correct their breathing volume.
When the switch is first made from mouth to nasal breathing, the volume of air being inhaled will reduce. Your mouth is a bigger opening and thus you can breathe far more air through it. If you have had your mouth open for many years, it is certain that the body has become adjusted to this heavier breathing. Your nostrils are a smaller space and thus will create more resistance than mouth breathing. As a result you may feel that you are not getting enough air. This will be for a short time only. In a few days, your respiratory centre will have become accustomed to the more correct volume.
Mastering the change
Whatever you do, ensure that you keep your mouth closed. Your body may begin to play tricks and convince you to breathe more by inducing yawning, sighing, regular sniffing or the odd mouth breath. Try not to increase breathing at this point. When the need to big breathe arises, for example during a sigh, swallow immediately. If the need to yawn also occurs, avoid taking the big breath that accompanies a yawn. Instead stifle the yawn by keeping the mouth closed, or by swallowing. It takes just a few days for a habitual mouth breather to change to permanent nasal breathing. Increased observation of your breathing and practicing to breathe less are important elements to make this change.
After the change to nasal breathing has been made, it will become uncomfortable to mouth breathe because the effects of cold dry air entering through the mouth will be felt. Often people begin to wonder how on earth they managed to go through life with a permanent, and very uncomfortable, blocked nose; a condition which is frequently, and usually unsuccessfully, addressed by the use of nasal sprays, decongestants or even an operation.
1) Ballentine 1979; Holmes 1950 cited in Hyperventilation Syndrome by Robert Fried
2) Greisheimer 1963 cited in Hyperventilation Syndrome by Robert Fried
3) The negative effects of mouth breathing by Orthodontist, Dr John Mew. See www.orthotropics.com.