Oesophageal speech after laryngectomy

After surgery to remove the whole of your voice box (total laryngectomy), you are no longer able to speak in the normal way. But there are different ways you can communicate and learn to speak again. 

Types of communication

The type of communication you have after a total laryngectomy depends on:

  • your situation
  • the type and amount of surgery you had
  • your preferences

You see a speech and language therapist before your surgery to discuss the different ways you can use to communicate. Oesophageal speech, or swallowing air, is one way. But there are other ways to communicate, such as voice prosthesis and electrolarynx.

What is oesophageal speech (swallowing air)?

This used to be the most common way that people learned to speak after a laryngectomy. If you use this method, your speech and language therapist begins teaching you soon after you recover from your operation.

How you do it

To speak in this way, you move air down into your food pipe (oesophagus). The air passes through the muscles in your throat and causes vibrations. You learn to use these vibrations and turn them into speech by moving your mouth and lips as you would when speaking normally.

Some people are able to do it more quickly than others. Sometimes it might seem that you will never get the hang of it. But keep trying, and you might eventually be able to do it.

The biggest difficulty is moving down enough air to be able to produce continuous speech. Most people speak in short sentences. Some people can even go back to jobs that need a lot of talking.

Your speech and language therapist can be a great support during this time. They understand that you need a lot of practice.

The advantages

Many people find it easier to use a voice prosthesis than oesophageal speech. But the advantage of oesophageal speech is that you don't need any equipment. This may be better for you than speech valve if you have difficulty with fiddly things. You also don’t need any further surgery for oesophageal speech.

Oesophageal speech might also be a better option than an electrolarynx if you think you might have a problem holding something to your throat every time you need to speak.

Last reviewed: 
14 Dec 2021
Next review due: 
13 Dec 2024
  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures, Professional Edition, 9th
    L Dougherty and S Lister (Editors)
    Royal Marsden Manual Series, 9th Ed, 2015

  • Rehabilitation after Total Laryngectomy—A Tribute to the Pioneers of Voice Restoration in the Last Two Centuries 

     K Lorenz 

    Frontiers in Medicine, volume 4, 2017, page 81  

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