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Therapy Source Career Center - June 2019

Using a Speaking Valve While on a Ventilator

George Barnes, MS, CCC-SLP

March 4, 2022



Can a speaking valve be used while a patient is still on the ventilator?


While more complicated and possibly at a higher risk to the patient, a speaking valve can be successfully placed on a patient while they are still ventilator dependent. A patient who is on the ventilator cannot be considered for a cuffless tracheostomy tube and may not be appropriate for a tracheostomy tube downsize either. This means the patient’s tracheostomy tube may take up a large area of tracheal space needed for adequate upper airflow with the speaking valve. The most dangerous scenario that can occur is if the patient’s cuff is left inflated after the speaking valve is placed. With an inflated cuff, the patient will not be able to exhale any air around the tracheostomy tube to the upper airway, keeping all air below the level of the cuff and suffocating the patient. If pursued, a speaking valve trial in-line with the patient's ventilator tubing should be done under a clearly defined, facility mandated protocol and only after appropriate IDT discussions occur for medical clearance. Lastly, respiratory therapy should be present for this evaluation and should be trained and skilled in the various settings and alarms that will need to be adjusted. 

There are several signs that indicate a patient is not tolerating the speaking valve. Those signs include reports of difficulty breathing, anxiety, or inability to speak. Further, the SLP may see changes in the patient’s cardiopulmonary status (e.g. a drop in oxygen saturation or an increase in respiratory or heart rate). Visible fatigue may also be observed in the form of the patient inadvertently using accessory muscles to support adequate lung ventilation. The SLP may also notice that the patient is unable to phonate. This may be due to an issue in airway patency, breath support, or vocal fold function. Backpressure when removing the speaking valve may indicate that the upper airway is not patent (obstructed) (Lichtman, 1995). Any signs that the patient is unable to tolerate the speaking valve should be an alarm to remove the speaking valve as restricted upper airway airflow may result in respiratory insufficiency or failure (Prigent et al., 2011). The SLP may suction, reposition, and re-educate the patient before reattempting the speaking valve. If these strategies are unsuccessful and a tracheostomy tube downsize has already been completed, further consideration of respiratory insufficiency and/or upper airway obstruction should be pursued with the assistance of the pulmonologist and ENT.

Refer to the SpeechPathology.com course, 20Q: Beyond the Swallow: Tracheostomy Tube and Ventilator Management, for more information on the various questions that may arise for the medical SLP involved in the care of patients with tracheostomy and/or mechanical ventilation.

george barnes

George Barnes, MS, CCC-SLP

George Barnes MS CCC-SLP has developed an expertise in dysphagia with a focus on diagnostics in the medically complex population through his dedication to a variety of medical settings. George yearns to make education useful, research clinical-focused, and quality care accessible. His coaching program with FEESible Swallow Solutions supports SLPs with the guidance they need to reach their clinical and career goals. He co-founded a mobile FEES service to bring the highest quality assessment to the patient's bedside. His webinars bridge research and patient care. George strives to go beyond the swallow in dysphagia management by looking at the whole patient which is evident in his work on a pneumonia risk calculator. With a passion for food and a deep appreciation for the joy and connection it gives to our lives, he has dedicated his life to helping others enjoy this simple, but deep-rooted pleasure.

Related Courses

20Q: Beyond the Swallow - Tracheostomy Tube and Ventilator Management
Presented by George Barnes, MS, CCC-SLP


George Barnes, MS, CCC-SLP
Course: #10056Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'Clear, easy to understand material'   Read Reviews
This course addresses the various questions that may arise for the medical SLP involved in the care of patients with tracheostomy and/or mechanical ventilation. Topics include causes of respiratory failure, consequences of tracheostomy/ventilation, risk management related to intervention, and considerations for assessment and treatment of swallowing and communication, including the use of speaking valves.

Aspiration Pneumonia Management in Complex Cases: Beyond the Swallow
Presented by George Barnes, MS, CCC-SLP


George Barnes, MS, CCC-SLP
Course: #10271Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'Explanation of make up inside of lungs and specifics of body's defense'   Read Reviews
This is Part 1 of a two-part series. How aspiration pneumonia develops, and a risk management approach that focuses not just on swallowing but on evaluating and treating the whole patient, are discussed. A multi-step system that can improve risk assessment and decision-making for patients with complex medical conditions and multiple risk factors for aspiration pneumonia is presented.

Aspiration Pneumonia Management in Complex Cases: Putting Theories into Practice
Presented by George Barnes, MS, CCC-SLP


George Barnes, MS, CCC-SLP
Course: #10276Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'Great information topic that is not covered very often'   Read Reviews
This is Part 2 of a two-part series. Theories of aspiration pneumonia risk management are described in this course, including use of decision-making frameworks and management guidelines in interdisciplinary teams. Medically complex case studies are discussed to show how these theories can be put into practice to improve patient outcomes.

20Q: Pediatric Voice Disorders: Diagnostic and Treatment Approaches
Presented by Susan Baker Brehm, PhD, CCC-SLP, Barbara (Derickson) Weinrich, PhD, CCC-SLP, Lisa Nelson Kelchner, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-S


Susan Baker Brehm, PhD, CCC-SLPBarbara (Derickson) Weinrich, PhD, CCC-SLPLisa Nelson Kelchner, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-S
Course: #8972Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'A nice overview of considerations when looking at possible voice disorders in children'   Read Reviews
This course provides the practicing speech-language pathologist with information on special considerations in the treatment of children with voice disorders. The various causes of voice disorders are discussed as well as the treatment of specific types of disorders.

20Q: Evaluation and Treatment of Speech/Resonance Disorders and Velopharyngeal Dysfunction
Presented by Ann W. Kummer, PhD, CCC-SLP


Ann W. Kummer, PhD, CCC-SLP
Course: #8729Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'Excellent, clear to read/understand information that I can apply to my evaluations/caseloads today'   Read Reviews
Children with speech and resonance disorders (hypernasality, hyponasality, and cul-de-sac resonance) and/or nasal emission present challenges for speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in all settings. This article will help participants to recognize resonance disorders and the characteristics of velopharyngeal dysfunction, and provide appropriate management.

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