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What is a total laryngectomy?

Undergoing a total laryngectomy can be an overwhelming experience, but you shouldn’t feel isolated. There are more than 100,000 people worldwide that have undergone the same operation and proven it’s possible to maintain your quality of life.

The consequences

The surgical procedure involves the removal of the larynx, also known as the voice box, and the epiglottis. Removal of the voice box not only leads to changes in the voice, but it also changes the way you breathe, swallow and smell.

Going through a total laryngectomy means breathing through a stoma instead of your nose and mouth, and also learning to speak in a new way. It is a life-changing event but it is possible to enjoy life again after a total laryngectomy. Coughing can be reduced to a minimum, you can learn to speak again and it is possible to enjoy scents and flavours again.

A new way of breathing


Your nose does more than just smell – it heats, humidifies, and filters the air you breathe. That way, when the air reaches your lungs it has reached body temperature and contains the level of moist needed for the lungs to function properly.

After the operation, you breathe through the stoma in your neck so these functions of the nose are lost. As a result, the air is not warmed and humidified before it reaches the lungs. Heat and Moisture Exchanger (HME) is designed to help your lungs by warming and humidifying the air. An HME functions similar to how your nose did before your surgery.

Your new voice


One of the biggest changes after a total laryngectomy is losing your vocal cords. This means you won’t be able to speak as you could before, but there are proven ways to regain the power of your speech.

Losing your natural voice can initially be quite upsetting, and have a large impact on your ability to communicate as well as your sense of identity. There are basically three voicing methods that can be learned after surgery: oesophageal voice, electrolarynx, and tracheoesophageal voice.


Smelling after laryngectomy 


Smell and taste are important senses and help to make eating enjoyable. Since you no longer breathe through your nose, your sense of smell and taste may be different after surgery. You can learn ways to help improve smell and taste during your rehabilitation.

A technique called “polite yawn” can help you to smell after a laryngectomy. It can be described as yawning with your mouth closed. Some taste will be restored naturally when completing the polite yawning technique. Chewing more thoroughly may also improve taste, as it moves more air into the nose.

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