We usually breathe through our nostrils, so as to warm and moisten what traverses our nasal passages. However, some children breathe in and out mostly through their mouth. This is known as mouth breathing.
What causes mouth breathing?
Seasonal illnesses 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.
Some of the common causes of mouth breathing in infants and children are enlarged adenoids and tonsils, birth abnormalities, such as choanal atresia, cleft palate or Pierre Robin syndrome, and allergies.
How mouth breathing can affect your child’s health
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.
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 apnea 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. It also leads to depleted carbon dioxide levels, reduces blood circulation, slows down your brain and reflexes and even causes spells of dizziness and sometimes unconsciousness.
Researchers have pointed out how mouth breathing and associated hyperventilation causes and exacerbates asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease and other medical problems.
When you breathe through your mouth or over-breathe, 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 the mouth, you are failing your heart, brain and all other organs by denying optimal oxygenation.
Mouth breathing is a highly treatable condition and parents should not ignore it. The earlier a child gets treated, the less likely they are to experience any chronic and long-term complications of mouth breathing.
(With inputs from Dr Srikanta J T, consultant, Department of Paediatric Pulmonology, Aster RV Hospital)