Total laryngectomy results in a permanent disconnection of the upper and lower airways and inevitably leads to chronic pulmonary complaints like frequent involuntary coughing, increased sputum production and repeated daily forced expectoration to clean the airway. Heat and moisture exchangers (HMEs), applied in an attempt to compensate for the lost functions of the upper respiratory tract, have been found to diminish these symptoms and improve the quality of life significantly. An HME has three physical properties that might be responsible for these improvements. First, its heat and moisture exchanging capacity improves intra-airway preservation of heat and water. Since the condensation and evaporation of moisture are accompanied by the release and uptake of thermal energy, these parameters are inseparable. Secondly, the HME's resistance may reduce dynamic airway compression, thereby improving ventilation. Thirdly, to some extent, an HME might filter out particles, thereby cleaning inspiratory breathing air. This article summarizes our present knowledge of changes in respiratory physiology after total laryngectomy and the influence of the HME by reviewing the physiological impact of these three physical properties separately for in vitro and in vivo data.