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Nasal polyps

Nasal polyps are soft, sac-like growths on the lining of the nose or sinuses.

Causes

Nasal polyps can grow anywhere on lining of the nose or the sinuses. They often grow where the sinuses open into the nasal cavity. Small polyps may not cause any problems. Large polyps can block your sinuses or nasal airway.

Nasal polyps are not cancer. They seem to grow due to long-term swelling and irritation in the nose from allergies, asthma, or infection.

No one knows exactly why some people get nasal polyps. If you have any of the following conditions, you may be more likely to get nasal polyps:

Symptoms

If you have small polyps, you may not have any symptoms. If polyps block nasal passages, a sinus infection can develop.

Symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Stuffed up nose
  • Sneezing
  • Feeling like your nose is blocked
  • Loss of smell
  • Loss of taste
  • Headache and pain if you also have a sinus infection

With polyps, you may feel like you always have a head cold.

Exams and Tests

Your doctor will look in your nose. Polyps look like a grayish grape-shaped growth in the nasal cavity.

Your doctor may do a CT scan  of your sinuses. Polyps will appear as cloudy spots. Older polyps may have broken down some of the bone inside your sinuses.

Treatment

Medicines help relieve symptoms, but rarely get rid of nasal polyps.

  • Nasal steroid sprays shrink polyps. They help clear blocked nasal passages and runny nose. Symptoms return if treatment is stopped.
  • Corticosteroid pills or liquid may reduce swelling and other symptoms.
  • Allergy medicines can help prevent polyps from growing back.
  • Antibiotics can treat a sinus infection caused by bacteria. They can't treat polyps or sinus infections caused by a virus.

If medicines don't work, or you have very large polyps, you may need surgery to remove them.

  • Endoscopic sinus surgery is often used to treat polyps. With this procedure, your doctor uses a thin, lighted tube with instruments at the end. The tube is inserted into your nasal passages and the doctor removes the polyps.
  • Usually you can go home the same day.
  • Sometimes polyps come back, even after surgery.

Outlook (Prognosis)

  • Removing polyps with surgery usually makes it easier to breathe through your nose.
  • Over time, however, nasal polyps often return.
  • Loss of smell or taste does not always improve following treatment with medicine or surgery.

Possible Complications

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Polyps coming back after treatment

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you often find it hard to breathe through your nose.

Prevention

  • You can't prevent nasal polyps. However, nasal sprays, antihistamines, and allergy shots may help prevent polyps that block your airway.
  • Treating sinus infections right away also may help.

References

Bachert C, Gevaert P, van Cauwenberge P. Nasal polyps and rhinosinusitis. In: Adkinson NF Jr., Bochner BS, Busse WW, Holgate ST, Lemaske RF Jr., eds. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 56.

Becker S. Surgical Management of Polyps in the Treatment of Nasal Airway Obstruction. Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America. 2009: 42 (2): 377-385.

Mannin SC. Medical management of nasosinus infectious and inflammatory disease. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 50.

Updated: 8/12/2013

Ashutosh Kacker, MD, BS, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Associate Attending Otolaryngologist, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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