Possible Problems





Smelling and Blowing Your Nose


As a laryngectomy we have no airflow thought our nose to smelling and blowing your nose can be a challenge. There is a technique that can be learned to help with that capability called a Polite Yawn Technique. I involves using your mouth cavity to capture air and force it out you nose by closing our jaw with your mouth closed. The air has to go somewhere so it goes out the nose. The reverse action can be done to draw air into the nose to enable some smell.

This technique is explained at the following link from the Dutch Cancer Society:


There is also a video on YouTube that show the effectiveness of the technique as indicated by the use of a manometer (not necessary to learn the technique).


Another YouTube video shows how the technique looks when being done:


 For those that can not perform the Polite Yawn technique here is another method that uses a baby nipple and tubing to create a device to help:




There are a lot of ways to learn how to sniff and smell again. All of them
are related to being able to suck in liquid through a straw. If you can do
that, try blowing bubbles with the straw. Doing these means you can use
your mouth as a bellows - to pull in air or push out air. When you use a
straw, you also have your soft palate closed. That's the connection between
your nasal passages and your mouth. It can take some practice to learn to
open and close it on purpose, but it can start with a clicking, snorting
sound coming from the top back of your mouth. When you do the straw action
with your lips closed, air has to go through that opening in your soft
palate - which means air flow in and out through your nose.

In my experience larys tend to lock down our soft palates. (I don't know
why.) Once you can open it up food will taste better, you can blow your
nose, and taking a sniff of the air is easy.

Be well,




I am a biologist and taught biology using th human organism for almost all of my examples. I reasoned that if those tissues with the sensory cells were intact, there was NO reason that the sense of smell or taste should be inhibited directly BY THE ACTION OF THE SURGERY. The drinking straw thing--that's is a problem for certain people that have a certain level of radical surgery and a particular form of reconstruction that prevents specific muscular actions from taking place. I was/am not one of those few, so I use a straw quite frequently. In fact, drinking with a straw is easier, if not "cleaner" for me than more normal tipping of the glass, because of how the muscles below my tongue and along the underside of my jaw & thorax now work (I sometimes dribble).

I was able to move air through my nose by the second day after surgery while still in the hospital. I was not able to experiment with taste and flavors for a while because I was not allowed to swallow (at all) for a little over 2 weeks. In the hospital, I quickly noticed the alcohol swabs used on me, the disinfectant in the hand-cleaner my nurses and visitors used on their way in & out of the room, the scent one of my nurses wore and I noticed when I was awakened one of those annoying frequent times in the night.

When I realized I must be doing something to get the air to pass by the sensory area of my nose, I was delighted! I did not have t work at it much, but was pretty quickly able to push and pull air through my head with what I later learned had the name of "polite yawning." When you see a frog do it, it's called 'buccal respiration' ('buccal" meaning 'cheeks'). Frogs pull in air to their cheeks.move it around just a tad, then pump it back out. They are blessed with the ability to diffuse oxygen directly through their skin, including the lining of their mouth, so they can sit quietly and breather with no body/lung effort whatsoever. I mimicked a frog in those early days of experimentation, but now can move mouth air up into the back of the throat and into my nasal area without much (if any) thought and almost no externally observable effort.

When I am at the stove, this act of moving air to smell is more or less automatic--I rarely "think" about doing it anymore and only concentrate on doing it when I am seriously evaluating something I am cooking, altering spicing, or experimenting with. I sometimes stop and consciously make the effort to pay attention when I have a particularly fine cup of coffee from some new coffee I have recently roasted. In this way I am able to better pick up the delicate florals that might be otherwise missed by simply swilling the cup down. (grin)

Regarding taste; I have found that while certain flavors absolutely require the "air connection" that involves the sensory area of the nose, there are far more flavors of which I find myself much more sensitive BECAUSE I am essentially relying only on the tongue to "taste" the flavor.

I can now better pick out specific chemicals from certain items because the nose is not dominating the sensory reactions. Mints, for instance are easier to tell apart one from another. The methyl salicylate that provides the primary taste we associate with wintergreen, as another example, stands out like a loud bullhorn against the background "noise" of the flavors in a candy, beverage, or desert drink. I can much better pick out the
sensation(s) of umami and know better how much I need to moderate that flavor aspect one way or the other. (This, in fact, was a pleasant surprise with respect to my cooking and I have added a number of umami additives to my cooking shelf!)

Many sweet treats, especially hard candies and baked good with fillings or that are covered in reduced sweet sauces, have become too sweet--and often too "chemically" tasting--for me these days, especially when the various sugars are combined with aromatic oils. Orange oil, as an example, is SO intense since the laryngetomy!

The Bottom line for me is that while my sense of taste & smell have been altered to one degree or another and has, indeed, required some adjustments, it has been in no way a loss in my life.

Be encouraged! You will adapt and perhaps discover new abilities that cause your cooking to evolve and improve!

We are all puling for you!



Following the recent discussion on the sense of smell after laryngectomy, and the possibilities for its rehabilitation, I would like to once more draw attention to the website of the Netherlands Cancer Institute, where you can find very useful information and teaching material both for patients and SLPs about the nasal airflow inducing maneuver/polite yawning method, also mentioned by some of you. This is a well-researched and documented rehabilitation method, which enables the majority of laryngectomy patients to remain able to smell: if your sense of smell was normal before the laryngectomy, you still should be able to smell after the surgery. The instruction material contains many videos that make the recovery easier to understand and accomplish. With the help of your SLP this will be even easier. Also the American Cancer Society mentions this rehabilitation method on their website since earlier this year. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/laryngeal-and-hypopharyngeal-cancer/after-treatment/follow-up.html

All this Netherlands Cancer Institute copyrighted documentation is freely available for teaching purposes and for sharing with your health care provider(s) and your fellow patients.

With kind regards, Frans Hilgers.


Prof. Frans JM Hilgers, MD PhD, Head and Neck Surgeon Chairman-emeritus Department of Head and Neck Oncology and Surgery The Netherlands Cancer Institute - Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital Professor-emeritus Institute of Phonetic Sciences (ACLC), University of Amsterdam Plesmanlaan 121, 1066CX Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
www.hoofdhalskanker.info; www.gpracademy.com; www.franshilgers.nl

- Olfaction regained patient manual: https://www.avl.nl/flipbooks/Polite-yawning_manual%20for%20patients.app/Polite-yawning_manual%20for%20patients.app/Contents/Resources/index.html#p=1
- Olfaction regained SLP manual: https://www.avl.nl/flipbooks/Polite-yawning_manual%20for%20SLPs.app/Polite-yawning_manual%20for%20SLPs.app/Contents/Resources/index.html
- Olfaction regained refrence textbook (for those who want to go into more detail concerning the scientific backgrounds): https://www.avl.nl/flipbooks/Olfaction%20regained_FB-ST/index.html
Access to these and other documentations can also be achieved through the HN department website: https://www.hoofdhalskanker.info/olfaction-rehabilitation-after-total-laryngectomy/

*Text at the ACS website:
Restoring your sense of smell : If you have lost your sense of smell, or are smelling odors that aren't really there, olfactory rehabilitation might be another part of your recovery. Problems with smell (called olfactory disorders) can affect your appetite, sense of taste, food enjoyment, and how much you eat. Nearly all people who have had a laryngectomy will find they cannot smell things the way they did before. This is because air no longer travels through your nose. With olfactory rehabilitation, you can be taught techniques that cause nasal airflow and may help you recover your sense of smell. Examples are the nasal airflow-inducing maneuver (NAIM) and polite yawning. Olfactory rehabilitation (rehab) is available at some large medical centers. Talk to your health care team to learn more.




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