Mouth breathing is when people can’t breathe through their nose so they take in air through their mouths. Mouth breathing can cause sleep disorders that affect daily life. It also can change the structure of people’s faces. Healthcare providers treat mouth breathing by surgery or medication to enable people to breathe through their nose.
Mouth breathing is when people rely on taking in air through their mouths and not their noses. Mouth breathing may be why some people wake up with dry mouths and drool on their pillows.
But mouth breathing causes more problems than soggy pillows and dry mouths. Mouth breathing can cause sleep disorders that affect daily life. It can also change the structure of people’s faces. Most people develop mouth breathing as very young children, potentially setting the stage for long-term problems.
There are several differences between breathing through your mouth instead of through your nose:
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Mouth breathing affects adults and children. Healthcare providers estimate between 10% and 25% of children have mouth breathing.
People who breathe through their mouth and not their nose are more likely to develop sleep disorders, including sleep apnea. Children who have mouth breathing are more likely to have dental problems like malocclusion and facial differences. They can also develop obstructive sleep apnea that healthcare providers link to learning difficulties and behavioral problems.
Mouth breathing is something you do. It’s not who you are. It’s not a question of being good or bad. It’s about which way of breathing is most helpful and healthful. Breathing through your nose instead of your mouth is better on both counts.
Mouth breathing happens when people can’t breathe through their noses. Some conditions that affect nasal breathing include:
Many mouth breathing symptoms affect children and adults the same way. Here are some examples:
Children who mouth breath have different and more serious symptoms:
Healthcare providers diagnose mouth breathing by doing a physical examination, checking your or your child’s adenoids, tonsils and nose for any problems that may affect the ability to breathe through your or your child’s nose. They may ask about sleeping habits, too.
Some tests healthcare providers may use include:
Mouth breathing often happens when something blocks your nasal passages. Some children have mouth breathing because they have enlarged adenoids. Healthcare providers may recommend the following surgeries:
Chronic colds, sinus infections and allergies also cause mouth breathing. Healthcare providers may recommend medication to ease congestion that keeps people from breathing through their noses.
You can’t keep children from breathing through their mouths. But you can help your child so they don’t make mouth breathing a harmful habit. Here are some suggestions:
If your child seems to be breathing through their mouth more than their nose, ask their healthcare provider to evaluate your child for mouth breathing, including physical problems that may keep them from breathing through their nose.
As with children, you may not be able to prevent mouth breathing, but you can get help to stop mouth breathing before it causes problems such as bad breath and restless sleep. Talk to your healthcare provider if you think you may have started breathing through your mouth as you sleep.
Many times, healthcare providers can eliminate mouth breathing symptoms by treating the underlying problem. That may mean surgery to remove tissue that’s blocking your or your child’s airway. You or your child may need medication to reduce allergic reactions like chronic stuffy noses.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Mouth breathing is a habit people develop when they can’t breathe through their nose. Mouth breathing may solve the immediate and essential problem of getting enough air. But mouth breathing can become a hard-to-break habit that can cause sleep disorders, dental problems and facial structure differences. Talk to your healthcare provider if you think you or your child is developing mouth breathing. They’ll recommend treatments or medication to resolve the problem.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/11/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.