A tracheostomy speaking valve helps divert air away from your tracheostomy so you can talk more easily. You and your caretakers will require training to clean and maintain your speaking valve safely.

Tracheostomy speaking valves redirect air through your vocal cords, making it possible for you to talk.

A tracheostomy changes the air pressure in your respiratory tract. This affects how air moves through your vocal cords and makes it difficult to speak clearly. Tracheostomy speaking valves help solve this problem. They have other benefits too, like improving swallowing.

Keep reading to learn more about tracheostomy speaking valves, how they help, and how to maintain them.

A tracheostomy speaking valve is a one-way valve that blocks air from passing through your tracheostomy when you exhale.

When you receive a tracheostomy, most of the air you exhale exits through your tracheostomy tube instead of passing through your vocal cords. This redirection of air makes speaking difficult.

The most common speaking valve is the Passy-Muir swallowing and speaking valve (PMV), named after the inventor David Muir.

Tracheostomies can be either temporary or permanent. In either case, the inability to speak has many harmful effects. If you’re unable to communicate with loved ones, it can lead to depression, feelings of isolation, and loss of morale.

The inability to communicate with healthcare professionals can also have adverse effects, like interfering with rehab programs.

A speaking valve can help redirect air through your vocal cords, which may offer benefits such as:

  • allowing you to communicate with your voice
  • allowing you to speak louder
  • improving the rhythm and quality of your speech

A speaking valve can be invaluable in helping people with tracheostomies communicate with their voices. Along with improving speech quality, a speaking valve can potentially offer other benefits such as:

Many people with tracheostomies make good candidates for speaking valves.

According to Passy-Muir, candidates for their speaking valve include people:

  • who are awake and alert
  • of all ages
  • who use a ventilator
  • who don’t use a ventilator

People who aren’t candidates for a speaking valve

People who don’t make good candidates for the PMV include people with:

  • a lack of consciousness
  • an inflated tracheostomy tube cuff
  • a foam-filled cuffed tracheostomy tube
  • severe airway obstruction
  • thick or excess secretions in their throat
  • severely reduced lung elasticity
  • endotracheal tubes

It can take a while to get used to using a speaking valve. A doctor may refer you to a speech or language therapist to help you. It’s essential that you, your family members, and other caretakers learn how to use the speaking valve properly.

You may work with speech therapists, occupational therapists, and other professionals to learn to use your speaking valve.

A speech therapist can help you:

  • increase the amount of time you wear your speech valve
  • improve your voice quality
  • help you improve your breath and speaking coordination

Some companies like Tracheostomy Education sell tools designed to help kids learn to use their speaking valves.

It’s generally recommended that you have two speaking valves. This allows you to swap out your speaking valve so it can be cleaned.

According to the Passy-Muir instruction booklet, each valve is designed to last at least 2 months, if you clean and maintain it properly.

You can clean your speaking valve as follows:

  1. Swish the valve in soapy and warm (not hot) water.
  2. Rinse the valve very thoroughly with warm running water.
  3. Allow the valve to air dry before putting it into its storage container.

It’s important to avoid using:

  • hot water
  • bleach
  • vinegar
  • alcohol
  • brushes
  • peroxides
  • cotton swabs

Speaking valves generally have good safety profiles when used properly. In a 2020 study, researchers found no negative effects were reported up to a maximum of 17 hours of use.

Although rare, potential risks include user error. For example, it’s important to make sure your tracheostomy tube cuff is deflated when using a PMV. It’s also important not to mistake the PMV for a heat and moisture exchanger, which looks similar but doesn’t contain the same one-way valve.

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about tracheostomy speaking valves.

Can anyone with a tracheostomy use a speaking valve?

Many, but not all, people with tracheostomies are candidates for speaking valves. People who are in a coma or who have severe airway obstruction are among those who aren’t candidates.

How often should the speaking valve be replaced?

Each Passy-Muir swallowing and speaking valve (PMV) is designed to last a minimum of 2 months. Your valve should also be replaced if it becomes sticky or noisy or if it vibrates.

How do you clean a tracheostomy speaking valve?

You can clean your tracheostomy speaking valve with warm, soapy water. It’s important to let it air dry and to avoid using brushes, cotton swabs, or anything else that might leave a residue.

A speaking valve is a one-way valve that blocks your tracheostomy when you exhale. Blocking your tracheostomy allows air to pass through your vocal cords and can help you speak.

A speaking valve can also potentially improve the quality of your swallowing and may improve your sense of smell and taste. Many people with tracheostomies can receive a speaking valve as long as they’re awake and alert.