Is Mouth Breathing Really That Bad? Yes, Especially for Older Adults

Are you taking your nose for granted? Most people don’t think of their nose as a complex organ that plays a role in keeping you healthy, especially as you age. With aging, however, comes changes to the nose, particularly to its structure and its ability to do its job.

For example, the effects of gravity lengthen the nose. Its tip begins to droop and its sides begin to collapse.[1],[2] Also, the soft tissue in the nose begins to become inflamed as people age.[3] These changes sometimes cause a restriction of nasal airflow called nasal airway obstruction (NAO),[4] a common condition impacting 20+ million Americans.[5]

Diana’s story

NAO can cause people to breathe through their mouth, rather than their nose, to get enough air. This was especially true for Diana, 64, whose NAO symptoms greatly impacted her quality of life.

“I felt like I couldn’t breathe well enough through my nose,” said Diana. “I wasn’t sleeping well and I couldn’t exercise properly. I decided to see an ENT, who diagnosed me with NAO after an exam.”

Diana’s doctor recommended VivAer® (, a non-invasive technology that uses low temperature radiofrequency energy to gently remodel the nasal passage to improve airflow.

“I didn’t realize how little I could breathe through my nose until after I was treated with VivAer,” said Diana. “I’m still noticing improvement in my breathing. It is amazing to me. To be able to breathe through my nose so easily and fill my lungs through breathing through my nose is a gift.”

For older adults who are likely to have existing comorbidities, VivAer could be an appealing option before more invasive surgery. If older adults have health conditions that cause increased risk of heart failure and stroke, or if they are taking anticoagulants, they may not be great surgical candidates. The good news is that as of January 1, 2023, VivAer is covered by Medicare.

The impact of mouth breathing on health and what to do

NAO may cause people to breathe through their mouth to get enough air. This contributes to many ailments that may be harmful to older adults such as decreased lung function[6], which can lead to difficulty breathing, and poor sleep quality,[7] which impacts energy.

“The nose does many important things for our bodies, like warming the air to body temperature before it enters our lungs or filtering out particles,” said Diana’s doctor, Raj P. TerKonda, M.D., FACS, otolaryngologist (ENT), facial plastic surgeon and sleep specialist. “By breathing through your mouth, you aren’t letting your nose do its job. Correct breathing really should always begin with the nose, not the mouth.”

People see an eye doctor to maintain healthy eyes and correct their vision. People shouldn’t hesitate to see an ENT to keep their nose in good working order, especially if they have common symptoms of NAO. These symptoms include:

  • Trouble breathing through their nose, or a “blocked” feeling
  • Nasal congestion
  • Difficulty sleeping, leading to fatigue
  • Struggling to breathe through their nose during exercise
  • Frequent “mouth breathing”

VivAer is covered by Medicare and many other insurance plans when considered medically necessary. To learn more about VivAer or to find an ENT near you, visit

[1] Wittkopf M, Wittkopf J, Ries WR. The diagnosis and treatment of nasal valve collapse. Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2008 Feb;16(1):10-3. doi: 10.1097/MOO.0b013e3282f396ef. PMID: 18197014.

[2] DelGaudio JM, Panella NJ. Presbynasalis. Int Forum Allergy Rhinol. 2016;6:1083–1087.

[3] Wang D, Xiong S, Wu Y, Zeng N. Aging of the Nose: A Quantitative Analysis of Nasal Soft Tissue and Bone on Computed Tomography. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2022 Nov 1;150(5):993e-1000e. doi: 10.1097/PRS.0000000000009620. Epub 2022 Aug 22. PMID: 35994354.

[4] DelGaudio JM, Panella NJ. Presbynasalis. Int Forum Allergy Rhinol. 2016;6:1083–1087.

[5] Value calculated based on 2014 US population estimate from US Census and World Bank data in conjunction with incidence numbers cited in: Stewart M, Ferguson BJ, Fromer L. Epidemiology and burden of nasal congestion. Intl J Gen Med. 2010;3:37-45.

[6] Arifa KA, Nayana VG, Irfan KM. Can Upper Airway Surgeries Improve Lower Airway Function? A Prospective Study. Indian J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2021 Jan 29:1-7. doi: 10.1007/s12070-020-02311-z. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33532345; PMCID: PMC7844106.

[7] Nasal Airway Obstruction Structure and Function. J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg Patient Page. 2020 May; 146(5).

Author Profile

The Editorial Team at Lake Oconee Health is made up of skilled health and wellness writers and experts, led by Daniel Casciato who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We aim to provide our readers with valuable insights and guidance to help them lead healthier and happier lives.