Is empirical treatment a reasonable strategy for laryngopharyngeal reflux? A contemporary review

Clin Otolaryngol. 2020 Jul;45(4):450-458. doi: 10.1111/coa.13518. Epub 2020 Mar 26.


Background: Diagnosis and treatment of presumed laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) remain controversial. Empiric medication trials remain widespread for suspected LPR despite emerging evidence against proton pump inhibitor (PPI) safety and for pepsin as a mediator of LPR symptoms. Ongoing concerns exist related to inaccurate diagnosis, the cost and morbidity of potentially unnecessary PPI prescriptions, and availability and interpretation of objective reflux testing.

Objectives: To review contemporary evidence that does and does not support empiric medication trials for presumed LPR.

Methods: PubMed, Scopus and Cochrane Library were searched for literature about benefits, limitations and alternatives to empiric medication trial for LPR, in order to present both sides of this debate and identify best practices.

Results: The majority of physicians perform prolonged empiric medication trial with PPIs for patients with suspected LPR. Because symptoms and signs of LPR are non-specific, empiric medication trials require exclusion of other conditions that can mimic LPR. Following a PPI empiric medication trial, over one-third of patients remain non-responders. The use of hypopharyngeal-oesophageal multichannel intraluminal impedance-pH monitoring (HEMII-pH) has benefits and limitations in objective diagnosis of LPR.

Conclusions: Use of PPIs for single-agent empiric medication trial does not account for possible non-responders with non-acid or mixed LPR. If LPR diagnosis remains uncertain, alginates can be added to PPI trials. HEMII-pH testing upfront is ideal for patients with suspected LPR, but not always practical; it is indicated when PPI and alginate empiric medication trials have failed or when comorbidities confuse the diagnosis. A more comprehensive, combination therapy empiric medication trial regimen may be needed.

Keywords: empirical; laryngopharyngeal; proton pump inhibitors; reflux; treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Esophageal pH Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Laryngopharyngeal Reflux / diagnosis*
  • Laryngopharyngeal Reflux / drug therapy*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors / therapeutic use*


  • Proton Pump Inhibitors