Regaining your sense of smell

21 June 2024

Understanding and adapting to smell post-laryngectomy.


A laryngectomy affects your sense of smell and, to a certain degree, your sense of taste. You will no longer breathe through your nose after the laryngectomy, and surprisingly the sense of smell is closely linked to our sense of taste. In this blog post, we’ll explain the relation that your nose has to your breathing and taste, and give you some tips on how to regain your sense of smell and taste.

The Importance of Our Sense of Smell

  • Culinary Pleasure: smell heightens enjoyment of foods, drinks, and perfumes.
  • Personal Care: smell aids in maintaining personal hygiene.
  • Safety Alert: smell serves as a natural warning system.
  • Life Quality: smell influences overall quality of life.
  • Digestive Role: smell stimulates saliva production, aiding digestion.

The nose is an important part of your respiratory system

Your nose does more than just smell – it heats, humidifies, and filters the air you breathe. In this way, you can be sure the air is at the right body temperature and contains enough moisture when it reaches your lungs for them to function properly. One of the major post-laryngectomy challenges is that these nasal functions are lost, and you will breathe in dry, cold, and unfiltered air.

Heat and Moisture Exchangers (HMEs) are devices that are designed to sit over your stoma and allow you to breathe through them providing humidification and warming of the inspired air. They help reduce mucus production and coughing while easing irritation in your windpipe when used 24/7.

Since you no longer breathe through your nose, your sense of smell and taste may be different after surgery. But people with a laryngectomy have some tools that they can use to improve their taste and smell.

How are our senses of taste and smell related?

Surprisingly, our sense of smell is responsible for about 80% of what we taste. Without our sense of smell, our sense of taste is limited to the five taste sensations we’re all familiar with: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. The olfactory receptors that enable our sense of smell are located in the nose and nasal passages.

The “Polite Yawn” Technique

The nasal airflow-inducing maneuver, also called the polite yawn technique, is a simple and discreet method that helps people with laryngectomy improve their sense of smell, enhancing their overall experience of eating.

Professional guidance from clinicians and Atos can assist people with laryngectomy in learning and mastering the polite yawn technique, ensuring they receive the necessary support for regaining their sense of smell and taste post-laryngectomy.

Watch a video explanation of the technique:

The “Polite Yawn” Technique

Adjusting Your Chewing Technique

Chewing foods more thoroughly is recommended as it improves taste sensations. This is because the nose and throat share the same airway and allows aromas to get the nose through the back of the mouth. This, combined with the "polite yawn" technique, can help to enhance your sensory experience during meals after surgery.

A final note

Our sense of smell provides so much to the enjoyment of the special moments in our daily lives. Using these techniques can help people with laryngectomy regain smell and taste after surgery and support them during their laryngectomy recovery journey.