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Blog mainpage / Hospital, Living, Surgery / What is an HME and why would you need to wear one? 

24 February 2024

What is an HME and why would you need to wear one? 

If your doctor hasn’t already talked to you about an HME, make sure to ask them for information.  

By now you have most certainly come across the term HME. But you may not be entirely sure what it is. Firstly, HME stands for Heat and Moisture Exchanger and this is exactly how it operates. Since you no longer have the humidifying and filtering functions of your nose, an HME can be considered your new “nose”. It will mimic the functions of your nose and ensure that the air entering and exiting your lungs is heated and humidified, making sure the climate of your lungs is balanced.  

The HME will make the air you breathe warmer and moister.

If you were to not wear an HME, you would breathe air through the open stoma in your neck and the air that reaches your lungs will be cooler and less humid than it should be. Your lungs will react by producing more mucus, and your windpipe can feel irritated. This can cause you to cough a lot. But wearing an HME can help you reduce coughing and mucus as well as help you breathe better.  

How does an HME function? 

You will place an HME over the stoma in your neck. As you breathe through it, the air is heated and made moister. It does this by catching the heat and humidity of exhaled air and then transferring it to the air you inhale.  

HME benefits include 

  • Enables speaking after a total laryngectomy 
  • Enables occlusion of the stoma 
  • Conditioning of the inhaled air 
  • Improves voice 
  • Protects your stoma and airways 

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An HME for all occasions 

Using the best HME for certain situations can help improve your lung health. There is a range of HMEs that balance humidification and breathability according to the situation.  

Whether you are relaxing in the comfort of your own home, going out for a light stroll, hopping on a mountain bike, requiring protection during flu season, or even sleeping, there is an HME that suits the situation. 

Using an HME 24 hours a day 

The benefits of using an HME are substantial when compared to not wearing an HME at all. However, to improve your lung health and feel the difference of using HMEs, it is best to wear them all the time. Day and night.  

The benefits of adherent HME use are backed by clinical studies involving laryngectomized people. The studies showed that:

  • Coughing significantly decreased after 12 weeks of adherent HME use 
  • Respiratory symptoms such as coughing and excess mucus significantly decreased after 2 weeks of adherent HME use 

So, the benefits of wearing an HME and wearing an HME in different situations throughout the day are apparent. Adjusting to using an HME can be challenging in the beginning and you may notice a temporary increase in coughing and mucus, but with continuous use, you will start to notice the benefits.  

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