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Improving treatment for patients with throat problems


Patients in the UK are set to benefit from a new Newcastle-based study that aims to develop improved treatments for those living with persistent throat problems.

Ear, nose and throat (ENT) experts in Newcastle have been awarded £759,000 from the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme to look at whether the tablet, lansoprazole, a "proton pump inhibitor" treatment, can ease common throat complaints.

Voice changes, post nasal drip, dry cough, excess mucus, throat clearing and the feeling of a lump in the throat are all uncomfortable conditions that often develop later in life – yet little research has been done to help tackle these common health issues. 

The Trial of Pump Inhibitors in Throat Symptoms (TOPPITS) study is being spearheaded by Professor Janet Wilson, who has conducted major voice-related research as a professor of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at Newcastle University.

Professor Wilson (pictured), who has worked as a consultant ENT surgeon at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital for more than 20 years, said: “We see thousands of patients with a multitude of throat problems in our ENT clinics every year. Some come from other regions, or as far afield as Scotland. 

“Our study is the first substantial trial to look at the effect of powerful antacids like lansoprazole on throat symptoms. Some patients with throat problems can live with their symptoms for decades, and this can be problematic and quite debilitating."

More than 300 patients with persistent throat symptoms are taking part in the collaborative TOPPITS trial, which is being coordinated by Sister Julia Scott and her NHS Research Nurse team in the ENT clinic at the Freeman Hospital. 

Doctors believe the symptoms of throat problems are sometimes caused when acid from the stomach passes upwards and irritates the upper airway. Medics often treat these throat symptoms with traditional ‘heartburn’ remedies, most often by using a proton pump inhibitor. 

Lansoprazole is a common form of proton pump inhibitor which supresses the stomach’s production of gastric acids. It is very safe and is used in thousands of NHS patients with severe indigestion every month. 

Case study 

Grandfather-of-two Mark Wilson, of High Howdon, North Tyneside, has suffered with a persistent throat problem for more than a year after developing an uncomfortable feeling at the back of his throat.

The 56-year-old engineering worker said he welcomed the clinical trial as it is important more research is done to help those suffering from a variety of throat complaints.

Mr Wilson said: “I began to suffer throat problems over a year ago which made it very uncomfortable for me to swallow and I felt like I had a gobstopper at the back of my mouth.

“It’s great that Newcastle is leading the way in this research as patients will benefit from the clinical trial. Without research we would not know what could be done in the future to help those with persistent throat problems."

The patients are divided into two groups – one receives the study medication, and the other a specially manufactured, identical, inactive capsule. Patients have been randomly allocated to receive 16 weeks’ supply of either capsule. 

The current remedies for throat symptoms can include hydration with steam, frequent sips of water, or avoidance of cow’s milk dairy produce. 

Professor Wilson added: “Some patients are getting antacids as a first-line of treatment for persistent throat problems. Yet there is no proper evidence to back this up.

“We want to look at lansoprazole to investigate whether it is helpful in improving persistent throat symptoms. The information we get from this study will help enhance treatments for patients to ensure they get the best care possible.

“The TOPPITS clinical trial will allow us to gather data on whether using an antacid is the most appropriate course of action to help patients or whether other treatment options need to be explored.” 

To find out more about the clinical trial visit

published on: 3 August 2015