An electrolarynx is a device which is intended to reproduce the role of the larynx in speech in patients who have experienced cancer or other conditions which necessitate the removal of the larynx. This speech assistance device helps people communicate in a way which is comfortable and familiar. Numerous medical device companies make electrolarynx products which come in several different configurations to meet different needs.
The earliest artificial larynx dates back to around the 1920s, with electric versions appearing in the 1940s. These devices can make a huge difference in the lives of people who have had their voiceboxes removed. Many regions provide such devices free of charge to patients, along with maintenance and training in how to use them.
One of the most common types of electrolarynx is a hand-held device which is held against the throat and turned on when the person wants to speak. The electrolarynx produces vibrations which are similar to those generated by the vocal cords, allowing the person to speak relatively normally. It is also possible to use an internal electrolarynx, which vibrates an inserted tube.
Learning to use an electrolarynx can take time. After surgery, patients often have scarring or other damage in their throats which may require them to move the electrolarynx around in order to find the best spot to use. When well placed, the electrolarynx will allow people to speak relatively normally, although speech can have a slightly flattened, mechanical sound. Some people also find that the “sweet spot” changes with time, requiring small adjustments to the position of the device.
Many patients like to use an external electrolarynx because it requires minimal maintenance, and if one device doesn't work, it's easy to replace it and work with another one. One major drawback to the hand-held electrolarynx as opposed to internal larynx replacement devices is that it ties up a hand. Most people try to use the devices with the non-dominant hand to make them less inconvenient.
When you are talking to someone who uses an electrolarynx, you may have to concentrate harder to understand, although many patients grow skilled at using the device. Many people also say that they appreciate it when people look at them while they are talking, since much of human communication is visual. People who use an electrolarynx may want to explain this on the phone, as the sound of their speech can be distorted by the telephone, and people tend to be more patient and understanding when the use of an electrolarynx is mentioned at the beginning of a phone call.