What Are Nasal Polyps?
If you have inflammation in your nose or nasal cavities that lasts 12 weeks or longer, you may have nasal polyps. These growths in the lining of sinuses or nasal passages are often caused by chronic sinusitis, chronic hay fever, asthma, or an allergy to a medicine like aspirin or ibuprofen. Don’t worry—nasal polyps aren’t cancer. They don’t hurt and they may not even cause symptoms. Nasal polyps tend to only cause symptoms if they’re large enough to block your breathing, affect your ability to smell, or cause infections. Learn more about the symptoms of nasal polyps and know when to talk to your doctor about diagnosis and treatment.
Many of the symptoms of nasal polyps are the same as the common cold: runny or stuffy nose, headache or face pain, and snoring. If these symptoms last for more than 10 days, nasal polyps may be exacerbating them. Additional symptoms of nasal polyps are:
- Loss of smell
- Loss of taste
- Pain in your upper teeth
- Ongoing nosebleeds
Emergency-level symptoms of nasal polyps include:
- Sudden worsening of symptoms
- Trouble breathing
- Vision problems or pronounced swelling around your eyes
- Severe headache with a high fever
If you have any emergency symptoms, call 911. Large nasal polyps can block 75 to 90% of your nasal cavity.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and review your medical history for allergies. If nasal polyps are suspected, you may be referred to an otolaryngologist, a doctor who specializes in problems of the ear, nose, and throat. Otolaryngologists can usually diagnose nasal polyps during an office visit using a nasal endoscope, a minimally invasive device that looks inside your nasal cavities through a small camera. A computed tomography (CT) scan may also be ordered.
Treatment for nasal polyps tends to be either non-invasive or minimally invasive. Your doctor may recommend a nasal spray or medication that contains corticosteroids to help reduce the size of the polyps and prevent them from growing. If these approaches aren’t effective, anti-inflammatory medication may be added, including newer biologic drugs that are derived from living organisms. If surgery is ultimately necessary, it’s likely to be an outpatient, minimally invasive procedure with no surgical cuts on the face.
Reducing your risk of nasal polyps is especially important if you have asthma or allergies. Follow your treatment plan and talk with your doctor if it’s not working to control your symptoms. Everyone can also take these simple steps to reduce their risk:
- Stay away from nasal irritants like dust, cigarette smoke, and chemical fumes
- Wash your hands often
- Rinse your nasal passages regularly with a nonprescription saline spray
If you have chronic sinusitis, symptoms don’t get better within one or two weeks, as they do with a one-off sinus infection. They last for 12 weeks or longer, the same time period as inflammation from nasal polyps. The symptoms of sinusitis and nasal polyps are so similar that you shouldn’t attempt to self-diagnose. Talk to your doctor to get the examinations and tests you need to figure out what’s going on so you can move on to an effective treatment plan.