Sammy is eight and has a few health problems. And it is not measles, mumps or chicken pox like his grandfather had when he was eight. Sammy’s problems are more like jello – hard to nail. His teacher notices that he can’t sit still and squirms continuously. She thinks to herself that he probably has ADHD and that she should probably chat with mum and suggest she take him to the GP for a diagnosis. His mum is concerned about his sleep – he destroys the bed every night with his restlessness, sometimes wets it, and he never, ever wakes refreshed. Every morning is a battle to get him up and going – a battle from which mum is wearing the battle scars of exhaustion herself. His nose is often blocked in the morning and there is a question as to whether he suffers with hay fever. Sammy’s peers target him at school because he doesn’t always seem to catch what is happening around him. And Sammy’s concerns? He is always last in any sporting activity and can’t get his breath when running around. He doesn’t like coming last. Because of his exercise difficulties his GP thinks he might have exercise-induced asthma. His dentist looks in his mouth and sees cavities, damaged enamel and crooked teeth, and knows that the cause of this is mouth-breathing but doesn’t know how to convince Sammy to keep his mouth shut. He knows that simply telling the kid to keep his mouth shut is wasted breath. So he mentions to mum that Sammy will probably need braces when he is older.

In a world of medical specialisation we don’t always link health problems in differing body systems that are in fact related. All of Sammy’s problems are related – and they are related to the way he is breathing – a way of breathing that is seriously compromising oxygen to his brain and body tissues. Let’s look at them one by one.

When Sammy was three he had constant ear infections, colds and tonsillitis. When his nose was blocked he had no option but to breathe through his mouth. And when the infections cleared he kept breathing through his mouth. This caused the following cascade events in Sammy’s body:

  • Mouth-breathing meant that Sammy’s tongue was no longer in the top of his mouth, exerting the pressures against his top teeth to widen his mouth and keep them straight. Contrary to the myth that bad genes cause crooked teeth, dentists now know that the number one cause is mouth-breathing. Mouth-breathing has also raised the acidity in Sammy’s mouth damaging teeth enamel and contributing to cavities.
  • What Sammy’s mum hasn’t noticed is that he is snoring at night. Mouth-breathing at night impairs Sammy’s airway and lowers oxygen to the brain. Sammy’s night-time restlessness is because his brain is deprived of oxygen, which causes his disturbed sleep and daytime fatigue. Research now shows that snoring damages the developing brain. A stressed brain combined with his fatigue is responsible for his seeming to be “not-with-it” at times, also causing his daytime restlessness.
  • Mouth-breathing is also associated with low blood levels of carbon dioxide, an important blood gas that must be kept within a specific range for normal bodily functioning. Carbon dioxide helps keep airways dilated and open. Low levels lead to constricted airways – hence Sammy’s difficulties with exercise. When he exerts himself he breathes harder, and his already lowered carbon dioxide levels drop even lower.
  • Carbon dioxide also assists in transferring oxygen from the blood supply into the brain and body tissues. His low carbon dioxide level has resulted in poor oxygen transfer, and is another reason why Sammy is not doing so well in the classroom, playground and life in general.

Sammy’s mum was lucky. She found a breathing retrainer who helped Sammy get his mouth closed – day and night – and addressed the other dysfunctional breathing habits that were contributing to his low carbon dioxide levels. Sammy enjoys his breathing exercises because they are fun and he has quickly connected the dots that this is why he is feeling better. He is no longer snoring, wakes in the morning feeling rested, is more settled in the classroom and is now able to run without becoming breathless. As for his teeth? His dentist is delighted with Sammy’s new breathing habits and hopeful that braces can be avoided. As nasal-breathing is a significant driver of airway and facial development Sammy can look forward to developing a wider face and wider airways, lowering his risk of sleep apnoea later in life.

Sammy is a composite picture of many of the children that I and other breathing practitioners have worked with – both the conditions he suffered with and improvements he experienced in his health. If you are wondering if breathing retraining might benefit your child plan now to attend a free information session, or book your child for a complimentary breathing assessment. If your child has learned dysfunctional breathing habits that are compromising their health, breathing retraining is your number one strategy for improving their health both now and in the future.