Nasal Polyps: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Nasal polyps are small growths that form in the nose or sinuses. They're usually harmless but can sometimes cause problems. Read this lesson to learn about nasal polyps, what causes them, the symptoms, and how they're treated.

What are Nasal Polyps?

Nasal polyps are small, non-cancerous growths that form in the lining of the nose or sinuses. They can be teardrop-shaped or round, and they are more commonly found in older adults and men. Nasal polyps most often form in the space where the sinuses near the eyes, nose, and cheekbones drain into the nose, and they can be recurring. People with large nasal polyps describe the symptoms like a head cold that never goes away.

Here you can see a nasal polyp in the nostril.
nasal polyp

Causes of Nasal Polyps

The lining of the nose is called the mucosa, and nasal polyps can develop when this mucosa is irritated or inflamed for a prolonged period of time. This irritation or inflammation can be caused by chronic inflammation conditions, asthma, allergies, hereditary conditions, allergies to aspirin or yellow dyes, infections, sinusitis, hay fever, or a foreign body lodged in the nose. Nasal polyps are rare in kids, and if children develop them, it could be an indicator of cystic fibrosis.

Symptoms of Nasal Polyps

Small nasal polyps may not cause any symptoms at all. The polyp itself has no sensations, so it doesn't cause any pain. However, large polyps can causes problems, including obstructing drainage from the sinuses, which leads to infection. This resulting infection can cause pain. Large nasal polyps may also cause nasal congestion, sneezing, postnasal drip, runny nose, facial pressure, loss of smell or taste, itching around the eyes, chronic infections, wheezing, sensitivity to pollutants in the air, difficulty breathing through the nose, headaches, and snoring. They can also push the bones of the nose apart, changing the external appearance.

Diagnosing and Treating Nasal Polyps

Nasal polyps are diagnosed using a nasal endoscope or imaging scans. A nasal endoscope is a thin tube with a camera on the end that allows the doctor to see the inside of the nose and sinuses. Imaging scans like a CT or MRI show the size of a polyp - it appears as a cloudy spot on the resulting scan.

Sometimes no treatment is necessary, particularly when the polyps are very small. If treatment is necessary, however, the most commonly used treatment for nasal polyps is a nasal corticosteroid spray. This type of medication can be used to shrink or eliminate nasal polyps, and it's often used to prevent them from recurring. In some cases, oral or injectable corticosteroids are used instead. If polyps are due to allergies, antihistamines may be used, and if they are caused by an infection, antibiotics might be used.

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