Speaking without vocal folds

“Blom-Singer® SpeakFree® HME Hands Free Valve” – the name probably means very little to most people. But for those who have had their entire larynx removed – usually due to cancer – it quite literally means being able to speak again. The little valve with Freudenberg technology can restore some of the quality of life.

SpeakFree® HME allows me to speak with both hands free – and with self-confidence.

Mark Lanfersiek

Usually, the diagnosis is a shock: cancer of the larynx. And the treatment is also a cause for distress since it frequently means the complete removal of the larynx. The larynx has two functions in the body. On the one hand, it seals the trachea when swallowing so that no food or liquids can get into the lungs. On the other hand, it enables people to speak by setting air into vibration.

With the removal of the larynx, the esophagus and trachea must be separated physically from one another. The esophagus still leads to the mouth; however, the trachea ends in an artificially created opening called a stoma. The consequences for patients are immense, for this means that they can no longer speak unaided. Only with a shunt valve in the throat can air flow back into the mouth and make speaking possible.

A filter covering the stoma must always be to support the breathing and lung health of a patient. And to ensure that no foreign bodies can get into the now open airway. So-called HME filters (heat and moisture exchangers) do not just seal the opening; they also filter, warm, and moisten the inhaled air.When using the shunt for voicing, the filter must be sealed – usually with a finger, until now.

SpeakFree® HME Hands Free Valve – speaking without a finger

InHealth Technologies, a business unit of Freudenberg Medical, has released a product that makes life much easier for patients who do not have a larynx: the SpeakFree® HME.

Say good-bye to manual operation: Perhaps the most important feature of the Freudenberg valve is that people can keep both hands free when speaking since they no longer have to put a finger on the filter. A small, adjustable valve is integrated into the SpeakFree® HME that seals itself due to the increased air pressure when speaking. Just by breathing in, the valve opens again; the patient doesn’t have to do anything. And if hidden beneath a scarf, the stoma or opening in the neck doesn’t even have to be visible.

Up to 115 liters of air per minute stream through the SpeakFree® HME. Special feature: The desired flow rate can be set with just one valve.

0 liters of air per minute

The SpeakFree® HME also has a simple solution for the problem of regulating air pressure. There are essentially two versions for different levels of breathing resistance: ClassicFlow® and EasyFlow®. After all, both versions allow fine adjustment of the breathing resistance with a simple turn to handle different activity levels such as jogging or reading a book. The adjustment range is between 45 and 115 liters of air per minute to cover a wide range of scenarios. Similarly, it is possible to set when the valve should seal for air to direct into the voice restoration shunt for speaking.

There is market demand for easier, more cost-effective single-use devices.

Bethany Anke, Vice President and Managing Director of InHealth Technologies

High-tech at its best!

All of this sounds very high-tech – and it is. Optimal hygiene was naturally also a top priority during InHealth’s development of the SpeakFree® HME. That’s why the valve is conceived as a single-use device: you insert it in the morning and remove it before bedtime. Bethany Anke, Vice President and General Manager Managing Director of InHealth Technologies, says: “There is market demand for easier, more cost-effective single-use devices.” And the market is proving her correct: In the USA, health insurance companies are covering such single-use modules.

Making voice following surgery more natural

InHealth also paid attention to details which, at first glance, seem less important: The translucent, natural-looking HME that compliments more skin tones. And the housing is especially skin-friendly since it is entirely latex-free.

The SpeakFree® HME offers users two main benefits: the ability to speak and improve post-surgery quality of life. Their hands are now free to gesture along with their speech because they don’t have to put a finger on their neck. For instance, Mark Lanfersiek of St. Louis, MO USA, a SpeakFree® HME user, has the following to say: “I’m excited that I got to be one of the first people to try out the SpeakFree® HME. It didn’t just help me breathe easier; I have also noticed that it allows me to speak with both hands free – and with self-confidence.”

Speaking without a larynx

In 1980, the Freudenberg Medical brand Blom-Singer introduced the so-called “shunt valve,” which is inserted into the throat between the trachea and esophagus. When swallowing, it blocks the path to the trachea, ensuring that the airway and lungs remain protected. When breathing out, however, it allows the air from the trachea to move into the esophagus. This air, that would have previously vibrated the vocal folds, can now create vibration of the esophagus and provide a more natural sounding speaking voice.

To achieve airflow into the shunt, the filter in front of the opening of the stoma must be covered so that the air does not escape there – usually with a finger, until now. However, this situation is not without problems from a hygiene perspective: Germs can collect on the fingertip, germs that can enter the lungs. From a psychological point of view, restoring a more natural and conversational style of speech can help support return to work and activities of daily living. SpeakFree® HME solves both problems.