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How to Keep Masks From Creating Bad Breathing Habits

a woman wearing a cloth mask

For all of the current benefits associated with wearing a mask in public spaces and group situations, this constant cover-up also has its downsides.

It’s hard to hear and understand people, expressions are hidden, so meanings are often misconstrued, eyeglasses fog up, and Maskne, the name for skin breakouts around the mouth and nose area, are on the rise. 

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But one thing many don’t consider is how constantly covering your mouth and nose is turning nose breathers into mouth breathers.

The way you breathe is very important to overall wellness, because every biological process, from digestion to cognition to sleep quality and immunity depends on adequate oxygen for optimal performance. Proper breathing can even reduce stress levels, which is why it’s such a fundamental part of yoga and meditation.

For most people, breathing air through the nose is a somewhat effortless way to provide the body with oxygen, which is why it’s nature’s intended way for us to breathe. It more efficiently utilizes the large muscles of the diaphragm and results in the most optimal exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

In addition, the nasal passage’s natural filtration system not only purifies the air before it enters the lungs, it warms and humidifies it, which is particularly beneficial, and much more comfortable, in cold, dry climates. Inhaling through the nose also produces the molecule nitric oxide and delivers it straight to the lungs, where it boosts oxygen in the blood and helps fight viral infections, including the coronavirus, by preventing its replication.

Mouth breathing, on the other hand, relies more heavily on the smaller, muscles of the upper chest and neck. This more inefficient exchange of air can contribute to a feeling of light-headedness that is likely responsible for the anxiety that some feel when wearing a mask.

If you don’t have an underlying condition such as chronic sinus issues, asthma, spinal misalignment, etc., that makes breathing through the mouth necessary, it’s an option best saved for emergency situations,

But wearing a mask for extended periods is changing the way some people breathe. Even those of us who normally breathe through our noses, may find ourselves inadvertently mouth breathing at some point during the mask-wearing experience. This requires a lot more energy and is one of the reasons many people feel overly fatigued when the face covering finally comes off. 

Over time — and it’s already been many months — you may find yourself mouth breathing even when not wearing a mask.

This can result in a number of issues, many with negative health consequences. Bad breath and chapped lips are obvious, but other, more serious problems, include snoring or other sleep disorders, impaired biological function, fatigue, and brain fog. 

Practice these tips when breathing in a mask to make the process more efficient, eliminate mask fatigue, and prevent bad breathing habits from forming:

  • Pay attention to your posture – Sitting up straighter prevents airway obstruction and allows the lungs to more fully expand. Standing is even better, so switch positions if feeling short of breath.
  • Belly Breathe – Place a relaxed hand on your belly just below the rib cage. When you inhale, your diaphragm should push your hand away from the body, and allow it to return on the exhale. Practice keeping the breathing movement in the belly area as opposed to the chest.
  • Hydrate – While nasal breathing naturally humidifies air and captures moisture, mouth breathing results in moisture loss, which can lead to dehydration and fatigue. In addition, the mask itself causes you to generate more heat, especially when exercising. Drink plenty of fluids during the day.
  • Relax – Being short of breath can lead to anxiety, which can affect breathing rhythm. If you feel like you’re having trouble breathing, focus on slow, controlled, deep inhales, and even longer exhales.
  • Take Mask Breaks – While many people rip off their face coverings the minute they find some social distance, others seems to forget they’re on, and continue wearing them even when not necessary, such as alone the car.

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