Lungs are vital organs. They are responsible for ventilation, providing oxygen to your body from the air you breathe in, and releasing carbon dioxide to the air you breathe out.
Before surgery, you would breathe through your nose, mouth and throat – or what’s known as the ‘upper airways.’ These upper airways (in particular the nose) condition the air you breathe by warming up, humidifying and filtering it because your lungs need conditioned air to work properly. Since a laryngectomy will disconnect your upper airways; it will affect your lung function.
After your laryngectomy, you will breathe through a stoma in your neck. This means the air you breathe in won’t be humidified or heated by the time it makes it to your windpipe and lungs. This sort of ‘unconditioned air’ will be too dry and cold for your lungs, and may potentially lead to more mucus, coughing and a higher risk of airway infections.Luckily, Heat and Moisture Exchangers (HMEs) have been designed to help your lungs by warming up and humidifying the air you breathe in and in this way do what the upper airways used to do.
Your nose, mouth and throat work hard to warm up and humidify the air you breathe. After a laryngectomy, Heat and Moisture Exchangers will do this for you.
An HME sits over your stoma and you breathe through it. It warms up the air and makes it more moist. It does this by ‘catching’ the heat and humidity of the air as you breathe out, then passes it on to the air when you breathe in. In other words, an HME ‘conditions’ the air you breathe by keeping it at a good humidity and temperature for your lungs to function properly.
Many people find that wearing an HME all the time can help them live a better life and go back to doing many of the things they did before their surgery. This is because an HME helps them produce less mucus, cough less, feel less irritation in their windpipe, and breathe more easily.
There are different types of HMEs specially designed to work better in different situations. On the next pages you’ll find a quick overview of the different situations where you might use them.