How Nasal Breathing Keeps You Healthier

It may feel unnatural at first, but it’s the best thing for your body

Allison Hirschlag
Elemental
Published in
6 min readJul 14, 2020

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Photo: Jekaterina Nikitina/Getty Images

Breathing easily has always been a vital part of well-being. Thanks to the pandemic, however, this simple biological function has been compromised for many infected people, and remains threatened for everyone else who’s susceptible to getting Covid-19.

But what if changing the way you breathe could potentially help protect you from the very thing that threatens your ability to breathe? That’s one theory some experts are suggesting. It has to do with the simple physiology of the nose, and the chemical compound nitric oxide (NO).

Aside from filtering, warming, and humidifying the air you breathe, the nose is your first line of defense against allergens and pathogens. The mucus and cilia inside are designed to block these outside invaders from going farther down the respiratory tract and making you sick. And NO, which is what the sinuses release when you breathe through your nose, is a vasodilator, meaning it relaxes the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.

Doctors have been giving NO gas to people long before Covid-19 to help improve lung function in critically ill people suffering from adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), according to Albert Rizzo, MD, Chief Medical Officer for the American Lung Association. There are currently 11 clinical trials in the U.S. and Canada testing whether administering NO can improve recovery time of people with Covid-19 by boosting oxygen levels. The gas may also help fight respiratory tract infections like Covid-19 by inactivating viruses and inhibiting their replication.

Several studies, including one from 2004 that focused on the effects of inhaling NO on the SARS coronavirus, have shown that the compound has antiviral properties. A recent analysis of 45 relevant studies supports this oxygenation boosting effect that North American researchers are trying to demonstrate. It also notes that naturally produced NO from nasal breathing seems to have similar antiviral effects. For example, one discussed study found that humans who exhale more NO have fewer common cold symptoms, which suggests that nasally-produced NO may help protect humans from other respiratory viruses like Covid-19.

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Allison Hirschlag
Elemental

Writer of varying attitudes. Words at WaPo, Scientific American, Cosmo, Audubon, Weather, McSweeneys, Weekly Humorist and elsewhere. Likes laughing. And cheese.