Speech Therapy After a Tracheostomy
Many patients find that talking after the tracheostomy is a challenge. This is simply because air is no longer going through the voice box. Many patients find that if they cover the tubing they might achieve vocalization, but we recommend speaking with health officials first. When the patient struggles with this incredible change to their speaking habit this is where a speech pathologist can help.
A tracheostomy is a procedure that involves creating a hole in the neck, called a stoma, just below the vocal chords. The purpose of the hole is for a tube to be inserted so that the patient is able to breathe despite having a blocked airway. The need for a tracheostomy can vary greatly and include:
- Birth defects
- Burns in the airway (due to inhalation of corrosive materials)
- Chronic lung disease
- Diaphragm dysfunction
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Vocal cord paralysis
There are even more reasons for a tracheostomy and your reason may not be listed here. The overall common theme is that there is something blocking the airway that cannot be removed easily.
Young children with a tracheostomy can be helped with the use of a Passy-Muir valve and some applications to make great strides in communication. The Passy-Muir valve is a valve that helps redirect airflow to the vocal chords, making it easier to making sound and forming words. The Talking Tomcat App is very popular for children, featuring a tomcat that repeats all the sounds that a child makes. Many toddler children love it when someone or something repeats the sounds they make, and it’s a great tool to utilize. Your speech therapist may even do something similar one-on-one and give you further recommendations on practicing with your child at home.
For adults, it is equally frustrating when they can no longer communicate or even swallow easily. Many speech therapists will work through a series of swallowing exercises before getting to speech exercises. This is because the same muscles we use to speak are the same ones we use to speak. Once the muscles are worked and strength is built, speaking exercises will be easier. This does not mean that you stop doing the swallowing exercises once you get to speaking exercises, the patient will still need to keep up the exercises in order to improve their speaking abilities and have good strong swallowing skills.
For the families of tracheostomy patients, learn from the speech therapist how to do all the same things they are doing with your loved one. It will make it easier for your loved one, and they are more likely to achieve goals faster with your support. If you get frustrated or even have some ideas, talk with the speech therapist. It’s very important to have family involvement!