Living with a laryngectomy stoma

You’ll be given lots of information and advice about your stoma, but getting used to it will take time. Try not to worry if it doesn’t make sense straight away.

Stoma filters

When you breathe in through your stoma, air will go directly down into your lungs. Because it isn’t warmed and moistened by your mouth and nose, the cooler, drier air can irritate your lungs. This can make you produce more mucus (phlegm). You won’t be able to sniff or blow your nose to clear this. When you cough, the mucus is coughed up through your stoma, not your mouth.

It’s important to keep the laryngectomy stoma covered with stoma covers or filters. These are also known as heat and moisture exchangers (HMEs). You attach them over the stoma to warm and moisten the air. They help to reduce the amount of phlegm you produce and prevent coughing and chest infections. Your doctor, nurse or speech and language therapist can show you how to use them.

Chest infections

Breathing through a stoma makes you more likely to get chest infections. If you notice a change in the colour of your phlegm to green or dark yellow, or have a cough that doesn’t go away, it’s important to tell your doctor straight away as this may be a sign of infection. They may prescribe antibiotics for you.

Reduced sense of smell and taste

Your sense of smell and taste may be affected because you no longer breathe through your mouth. This can improve after a few months, although some people may have long-term problems. You may be able to learn the ‘polite yawning technique’, where you yawn with closed lips. This draws air in through the nose, allowing you to smell. It can also improve your sense of taste. Your speech and language therapist may be able to teach you how to do this.

Shower aids

These help prevent water going into your stoma when you shower. You can ask your specialist nurse or speech and language therapist about them.

Swimming equipment

You won’t be able to swim without using special equipment to stop water going into the stoma. The National Association of Laryngectomee Clubs can give you information about this. They also provide training to make sure you can use the equipment safely.

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