FAQ40: Why would a laryngectomy change the lung capacity?
by David Blevins
The laryngectomy surgery causes respiratory air to take a "shortcut" and bypass the upper respiratory system --- the nose, mouth, pharynx. We have learned that the nose alone provided 50% of the resistance to the movement of air in and out of the lungs. And resistance forces us to breathe more deeply and for the air sacs (alveoli) to open more fully.
Because it now takes less work to get oxygen, our lungs do not inflate as much as they used to. Over time this translates into less lung capacity...we get out of breath more easily. This is one of the facts which supports the wearing of HMEs which provide resistance. The research says that if introduced soon after the laryngectomy surgery they are better tolerated by patients than adding them later after we get used to breathing more easily. The feeling of having to strain to get air is not a pleasant one for many people despite knowing the benefits of retaining lung capacity.
Unless a lary wears an HME or engages in lots of exercise which forces deeper breathing there is a steady decline in lary lung capacy over time. The exact amount I don't remember, but it is significant.
The Europeans have paid more attention to both pulmonary rehabilitation in larys as well as smell (olfactory) rehab. We seem to have focused more in North America on voice restoration.