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What is the Best Way for my Child to Breathe When Wearing a Mask?

Feb 20, 2021

Written by: Shira Danino, M.A., CCC-SLP, Edited by: Megan Sliski, PT, DPT

Graphic showing girl wearing mask

Some of us are finding that we’re spending a lot more time in our masks than we thought we would. I can admit it: in March, I had NO clue that I’d be wearing a mask in April, let alone into February of the next year. From the looks of it, masks are going to be around for quite some time. 

Child wearing a mask while participating in speech therapy

The benefits of masks in such an uncertain world are obvious. They protect us and our children, and they protect others from what germs we could possibly be carrying. Wearing a mask is our best defense, along with social distancing and washing our hands well and often.  However, what’s not as obvious are the downsides to mask wearing. Aside from the foggy glasses and “maskne,” there are some serious things to look out for and prevent while wearing a mask. 

When we are sitting and breathing at rest, the proper position for our mouths is to be closed and our tongues to be resting behind our top front teeth.  For some reason, when we wear masks, we are more prone to mouth breathing. I’d like to suggest trying to breathe through your nose as often as possible while wearing a mask.  

Child with eyes closed breathing in through the nose while sitting on the grass

Here’s why:

  • Mouth breathing contributes to dehydration. Ever wonder why you’re so parched under that mask? Yes, one of the reasons is that we drink less often because our mouths are covered and we don’t want to lift it to drink while around other people. But if you’re mouth breathing under there, you are definitely getting more dehydrated than if you were breathing through your nose. Our kids need to be hydrated in order to learn properly. Proper hydration is directly linked to focus and concentration as well as energy levels.  
  • Mouth breathing can contribute to inflammation of the respiratory system. When we breathe through the mouth (even when wearing a mask) dust particles, bacteria, and viruses can enter straight into the throat and lungs. Our mouth does not have a filtration system to protect us from these germs and particles. We can be more at risk for infection and inflammation if we breathe through our mouths. 
  • Mouth breathing can compromise your immune system. Our nose is designed to filter the air we breathe and protect our airway. While our nose filters out these bigger particles, it also humidifies and warms the air in preparation for our throat and lungs. 
  • Mouth breathing may cause structural changes in children. Dr. Soroush Zaghi at The Breathe Institute writes that, “Habitual open-mouth breathing may adversely affect craniofacial development in children which may result in structural changes that directly impact the stability and collapsibility of the upper airway during sleep.” 

Next Steps

I think I’ve made my case for nasal breathing, with or without a mask. Try and practice nasal breathing with your kids who are old enough to wear masks. It may not happen right away, but even reminders throughout the day may be helpful. Feel free to share these tips with your child’s teachers, as they’re spending many masked hours with students. 

These are useful things to keep in mind even in a “maskless” world. So, if you notice your child breathing with an open mouth on a regular basis, contact our office to get a free screening. Remember, mouth breathing can change the shape of your child’s mouth, so speech therapy can help prevent further consequences. 

We hope you stay safe and well during what we hope is the final stretch of this pandemic! 

CLICK HERE for an article by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for extra education on the importance of nose breathing in children!

Comment below with your questions or share with us how you are helping your child to maintain a nose-breathing pattern while wearing their mask!

Resources: 

New York- Presbyterian (2020) https://healthmatters.nyp.org/how-to-breathe-better-with-a-mask
The Breathing Institute (2020) https://www.thebreatheinstitute.com/

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