Similar in appearance to tiny grapes or teardrops, nasal polyps are growths that develop on the lining within the sinus and nasal passages.
Often associated with allergies, aspirin sensitivity, chronic inflammation, and asthma, these growths are usually non-cancerous. Even so, they can contribute to potentially serious respiratory and sinus problems.
Some people have polyps in nasal passages with little no discomfort, while other individuals may have symptoms serious enough to require attention from an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor.
What Causes Nasal Polyps?
More common in middle-aged adults and men, nasal polyps develop when chronic inflammation gets into the mucous membrane of the nose or sinuses. People with nasal polyps also appear to have an immune system that reacts differently to certain chemical markers. Polyps tend to develop in the ostiomeatal complex (OMC) where most sinus drainage occurs. Symptoms associated with nasal polyps include:
- Having a persistent runny or stuffy nose
- Sensitivity to certain odors or airborne irritants
- Post-nasal drip
- Pressure felt in the forehead or face
- Snoring or wheezing
- Changes in the ability to smell
How Are Nasal Polyps Diagnosed?
Since symptoms associated with nasal polyps are sometimes vague in nature or similar to what’s experienced with other sources of nasal blockage, an ENT specialist may perform a nasal endoscopy to view the nasal and sinus passages to confirm the presence of polyps. A CT scan is sometimes done to determine the exact size and local of nasal growths. If undiagnosed allergies are a suspected contributing factor, allergy tests may be done.
What Are Possible Treatments?
The first attempt at treating nasal polyps usually involves medication. Nasal corticosteroids (steroid medications) may reduce nasal swelling enough to increase airflow and restore natural sinus drainage. If nasal sprays aren’t effective, oral or injectable corticosteroids may be recommended. Antihistamines may control allergy symptoms contributing to nasal blockage. Should aspirin sensitivity be a contributing factor, aspirin desensitization might be suggested. If a bacterial infection is involved, antibiotics may be prescribed until it clears up.
When Is Surgery Necessary?
If attempts to treat symptoms with medication aren’t effective after several months, an ear, nose, and throat doctor may recommend endoscopic surgery. During the procedure, a lighted tube with an attached lens is inserted through the nose to reach the affected area. Special instruments are used to remove growths in the nasal passages or sinus cavities. Another surgical option is to enlarge the area where the sinuses connect with nasal passages. Most patients respond well to surgery to remove nasal polyps. However, nasal spray is sometimes used following surgery to reduce the risk of polyps forming again.
Making an effort to manage asthma and allergies is one of the ways nasal polyps may be prevented. These growths may also be less likely to develop if you avoid cigarette smoke and other irritants, practice good oral hygiene to ward off infections, and use a humidifier if you have dry air in your home. If nasal polyps develop in children, diagnosis usually involves testing for cystic fibrosis, a condition that can affect nasal and sinus membranes, with a sweat test.