Nasal polyps are small, common, noncancerous growths that form in the nose or sinuses. They resemble teardrops or tiny grapes. Small polyps may not cause symptoms and require no treatment, but larger growths can block sinus drainage, leading to mucus buildup that can cause loss of smell, breathing problems, and chronic infections.
Nasal Polyp Symptoms
Nasal polyps can be difficult to detect. They are small and hard to feel. Signs and symptoms are similar to those associated with other conditions, and might include runny nose, stuffiness, postnasal drip, loss of smell and taste, facial pain and pressure, headache, itchy eyes, pain in the upper teeth, and snoring. Since they are often associated with chronic sinusitis, symptoms may be persistent; it’s best to contact a doctor if they haven’t subsided after about 10 days. Nasal polyps block airflow and fluid drainage as they increase in size, and can cause complications such as obstructive sleep apnea, asthma, sinus infections, meningitis, aneurysms, blood clots, and infections of the eye socket that could lead to permanent blindness.
The exact cause of nasal polyps isn’t well understood. Not all patients with chronic inflammation develop polyps. Some research indicates people who develop polyps have a different immune system response to the buildup of fluid in the mucus membranes. Nasal polyps can strike people of all ages, but are most common in the young and middle-aged.
Diagnosis & Treatment
If nasal polyps are suspected, your doctor will give you a physical exam, and ask you questions about your medical history. An examination of your nose with a lighted instrument may be enough to detect polyps. Other diagnostic tests may be used, including nasal endoscopy, CT scan, MRI, and allergy tests. Your doctor may want to test for cystic fibrosis if you have a child experiencing these symptoms.
Smaller polyps may respond to medical treatment. Commonly prescribed medications include nasal, oral, or injectable corticosteroids; antihistamines; and antibiotics. Larger polyps require surgical treatment – either an outpatient procedure called a polypectomy, or a more in-depth endoscopic sinus surgery. Polyps can grow back, even if removed surgically, so routine follow-up appointments are necessary.