Nasal polyps are soft, benign lumps or growths that hang down from the nasal or sinus linings like fleshy sacs. They are generally harmless and asymptomatic, as long as they remain small and don’t interfere with the normal functioning of your sinuses. But if nasal polyps grow in size and number, they can lead to adverse health complications that require medical treatment.
While people of all ages can develop nasal polyps, they are much more common in adults than in children. Certain medications can be effective in reducing or even eradicating these growths, though for some patients, surgery is the only way to remove them. Even if removal treatment is successful, nasal polyps can and often do reappear in patients who are predisposed to them for various reasons.
What are the symptoms of nasal polyps?
Nasal polyps by themselves are painless and benign as long as they don’t block the proper functioning of the sinuses in any way. They only become a problem if they start to obstruct breathing and prevent sinus drainage, which can lead to chronic sinusitis, a condition characterized by the continuous inflammation of the sinuses. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that you can still develop chronic sinusitis without nasal polyps, and that nasal polyps don’t necessarily lead to serious health issues.
You may be exhibiting signs of chronic sinusitis and nasal polyps if you experience the following symptoms:
• Runny nose
• Stuffy nose/congestion
• Postnasal drip
• Decreased or lost sense of smell
• Decreased or lost sense of taste
• Facial pain and/or headache
• Pain in your upper teeth
• Feeling of pressure on your forehead and face
• Recurring nosebleeds
What causes nasal polyps?
Generally, nasal polyps are more likely to develop when the sinus lining is chronically inflamed from allergies and infection. However, this is not always the case with everyone. It is still unclear why some people get nasal polyps from long-term inflammation, while others never do. They can appear anywhere in the sinus pathways, but will most often form in the sinus tissues near the eyes, nose, and cheeks.
What can raise my risk of developing nasal polyps?
You may face an increased risk of developing nasal polyps if you have:
• Chronic or recurring sinus infections
• Allergic fungal sinusitis, which is a fungal infection of the sinuses
• Sensitivity to aspirin
• Cystic fibrosis
• Vitamin D deficiency
• Churg-Strauss Syndrome, which is a rare condition characterized by blood vessel inflammation
• A family history of nasal polyps
When should I see a doctor for my nasal polyps?
There are no set rules, but it’s always a good idea to see your doctor if your sinus symptoms are preventing you from functioning normally and have lasted longer than a week. Please seek medical attention right away if:
• your symptoms are worsening to unbearable levels
• you are straining just to breathe normally
• you observe troubling changes to your sense of smell
What complications can be caused nasal polyps?
Growing or multiplying nasal polyps can cause various health complications when they start to block airflow and sinus drainage. This triggers a self-sustaining cycle that reinforces chronic inflammation and irritation, which in turn promotes the growth and proliferation of more polyps. Potential health problems that can arise include:
• Obstructive sleep apnea (a condition that causes you to frequently stop and start breathing during sleep)
• Increased frequency and severity of asthma issues
• Increased susceptibility and recurrence of sinus infections
What can I do to prevent nasal polyps?
You can effectively reduce your risk of developing nasal polyps if you:
• Take proper precautions with managing your allergies and asthma—this means following doctor recommendations and making the effort to reduce or eliminate the triggering allergens in your environment
• Regularly practice good hygiene—this means regular washing and disinfection of the hands to prevent infection
• Use a humidifier in your home to prevent dryness in your sinuses
• Limit the use of airborne irritants such as perfume and tobacco smoke
• Don’t let mold or mildew proliferate in your home—make sure that naturally humid places like the shower and kitchen sink area are clean and dry
• Use a saline nasal spray or rinse to facilitate mucus flow and remove trapped allergens in the sinus passages
What treatments are available for nasal polyps?
There are many effective treatments for shrinking or eliminating nasal polyps, such as:
• Nasal corticosteroid sprays that reduce swelling and inflammation
• Oral or injectable corticosteroids if nasal remedies prove ineffective
• Injectable antibody blocking medication (dupilumab) to lower your body’s natural inflammatory response
• Other medications such as antihistamines for allergies and antibiotics for recurring bacterial infections to moderate chronic inflammation
• Endoscopic surgery for polyp removal
Most cases of nasal polyps respond well to medications, so surgery will only be recommended after all other measures have failed. However, the improvement from surgery may not be permanent for a good number of patients, since polyps have the potential to grow back after a few years.