Bad breath, officially known as halitosis, may be off-putting. But it’s a common condition that affects one third of the population, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. While it may just result from eating something pungent like garlic or onions, it may also be a sign of other underlying conditions, such as nasal congestion and sinus inflammation, so it’s worth investigating the cause. The nose, throat, and mouth are closely linked, so what happens in the nasal passages often influences the odor that emanates from your mouth. Keep reading to learn how nasal congestion contributes to bad breath, and discover some simple solutions.
Causes of Bad Breath
Up to 90 percent of halitosis results from oral problems such as periodontal disease, bacteria coating the tongue, or tonsillitis and tonsil stones. If your dentist rules out oral issues, your halitosis could stem from a number of causes including post-nasal drip from allergies, respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal problems such as reflux, inflammatory bowel disease, helicobacter pylori infection, or rare but serious conditions such as diabetic ketoacidosis or renal and hepatic failure.
Another even more common cause of halitosis is sinusitis — inflammation of the sinuses, which often leads to clogged or infected sinuses and post-nasal drip. The sinuses are like little pockets, and they’re a moist environment. Germs can thrive and proliferate there, and they can fill with mucus.
Why Sinusitis Causes Bad Breath
Because the nasal cavity connects to the mouth by way of the back of the throat, it’s not surprising that inflamed sinuses can cause bad breath, too. Sinus infections are incredibly prevalent. In the 2018 National Health Interview Survey more than 28 million Americans reported having one. Doctors diagnose 11.6 percent of American adults with chronic sinusitis per year, and Americans spend more than $1 billion annually on over-the-counter medications to treat this often painful condition.
Sinusitis can be infectious, meaning a bacteria or a virus causes it. Or it can be allergic, meaning a reaction to mold, fungus, or another allergen causes it. It often brings uncomfortable symptoms such as facial pain, persistent nasal discharge, dental pain, and yes, halitosis.
But why do inflamed sinuses equal lousy breath? When the sinuses become inflamed or infected, they fill up with mucus, which may have a bad odor that translates to bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth. The odor of bad breath comes from a combination of volatile sulfur compounds (VSCs) such as methyl mercaptan (MM), hydrogen sulfide (HS), and dimethyl sulfide (DMS). But the good news is, some simple strategies can help you prevent or eliminate it.
How to Treat Bad Breath Caused by Nasal Congestion
If you think nasal and sinus congestion is causing your bad breath, you can take measures to ease your symptoms. For quick symptom relief, try these tips.
- Put a warm compress over your sinuses.
- Take a hot shower.
- Pour boiling water in a bowl and breathe in the steam.
- Take a decongestant.
Try these simple long-term strategies to stay ahead of sinus infections, inflammation, and bad breath.
Rinse your sinuses
Saline nasal rinses in a bottle, bulb, or neti pot can loosen nasal congestion if used regularly. They can also help to flush out allergens that may cause nasal congestion and irritation. If you make a saline rinse, the FDA recommends you use distilled or sterile water. If you want to use tap water, boil it first for 3 to 5 minutes, then let it cool to room temperature before you use it. To make a saline rinse, add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda to 2 cups of water.
Drink more water
Hydration is also a key way to combat congestion. Drinking enough fluids helps to keep mucus flowing out of the nose and sinuses, potentially staving off stuffy, irritated nasal passages.
Use the right dental products
For addressing the odor itself, mouthwash or toothpaste activated with zinc can help neutralize VSCs and prevent halitosis.
If your sinus symptoms are chronic and persistent and home remedies don’t help, you may want to visit an allergist or ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT) to get a diagnosis and a treatment plan. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends you see a doctor if you have the following symptoms:
- Severe headache or facial pain
- Symptoms that worsen after first improving
- Symptoms that last for 10 days without improvement
- A fever for more than 3 or 4 days
Depending on how severe your condition is, your doctor may take a mucus sample or perform a sinus CT scan or a biopsy.
If your condition is bacterial, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic, though many sinus infections clear up on their own. Taking antibiotics when they’re not recommended does nothing to improve your sinusitis, and unnecessary antibiotics can do harm, causing such symptoms as diarrhea and rash and contributing to antibiotic resistance. If your sinusitis is allergic — caused by a reaction to seasonal pollens, dust mites, or animal dander — over-the-counter medications, including antihistamines, nasal sprays, corticosteroids, or decongestants, may help.
You don’t have to live with nasal congestion or halitosis. Take the steps above to help restore your health and improve your breath.