Nasal Polyps: A Guide to Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Symptoms of nasal polyps may be similar to cold symptoms. However, a cold typically clears within a few days. Nasal polyps typically will not clear without treatment.
The symptoms of nasal polyps include:
- runny or blocked nose
- frequent need to swallow or postnasal drip
- reduced sense of taste or smell
- pressure or pain in your face and sinuses
- pain in your upper teeth
The exact causes of nasal polyps are unclear. However, they are more common in people between 40–60 years old.
Certain factors may play a role in the development of nasal polyps. These include:
- an increase in immune cells called eosinophils
- nasal or sinus tissue damage
- certain infections, especially staph infection
- anti-thyroid medications and some medications to treat high blood pressure
Other risk factors for the development of nasal polyps include:
- chronic sinus infections
- nasal injuries
- long-term exposure to lower air quality or allergens
- cystic fibrosis
- a medical or family history of nasal polyps or allergies
To diagnose nasal polyps, your doctor will ask you about your medical and family history. They will also ask you about your symptoms and how long you have been experiencing them.
The doctor will perform a physical exam as well. This will typically include an anterior rhinoscopy, which is an exam of your nose using a nasal speculum.
If your doctor believes you may have nasal polyps, they will generally refer you to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. The ENT will typically recommend a sinus CT scan and a nasal endoscopy to confirm the diagnosis of nasal polyps.
Treatment for nasal polyps typically begins with corticosteroid nasal drops or sprays. It may also include regular saline irrigation for 2–3 months.
If the polyps are large or the sprays are ineffective for you, your doctor may also recommend oral corticosteroids for a couple of weeks.
Your doctor will also recommend treatments to help manage underlying causes, like allergies or infections, during this time.
If there is no indication of improvement of the polyps in about 10 weeks using nasal sprays or drops, saline irrigation, or oral corticosteroids, your doctor may recommend surgery. Typically, people see improvement in their polyps after surgery to remove them. However, the polyps can return within a few years.
Reducing your risk of nasal polyps is especially important if you have asthma or allergies. Following the treatment plan from your doctor is important for clearing and preventing future polyps.
Other ways you can reduce your risk of developing polyps include:
- washing hands regularly
- using saline sprays or rinses to keep your nasal passages moist and prevent swelling
- treating any asthma or allergies you may have
- reducing exposure to or avoiding irritants like smoke, dust, and pollen
- turning on a humidifier if the air in your home is dry
- using corticosteroid nasal spray to reduce swelling
Nicole Aaronson, M.D., M.B.A., C.P.E., FACS, FAAP, reviewed these questions people frequently ask about nasal polyps.
Can nasal polyps go away by themselves?
No, nasal polyps require treatment for them to clear. This includes nasal sprays or drops, saline irrigation, and oral corticosteroids. A doctor may recommend surgery if these are ineffective.
However, even without treatment, they may regress to a size that does not cause symptoms. It is still important to speak with your doctor if you believe you may have nasal polyps.
What happens if you ignore nasal polyps?
Getting treatment for nasal polyps can help prevent complications like breathing difficulties and stuffiness. Another complication may include splaying of the nasal bones or pressure on the nerves. In extremely rare cases, nasal polyps can grow large enough to cause injury to nearby areas like your eyes or brain.
Can polyps in the nose turn cancerous?
Nasal polys are noncancerous, and they do not become cancerous.
Nasal polyps are soft growths inside the nose that occur due to infections, nasal tissue damage, or an increase in immune cells called eosinophils, for example. Generally, they are not serious. However, getting treatment can prevent them from growing large enough to block the nasal passage.
Symptoms of nasal polyps can be similar to those of a cold. However, the symptoms due to nasal polyps will not clear on their own like a cold will. These symptoms can include a runny nose, postnasal drip, and headaches.
Treatment for nasal polyps typically involves corticosteroid nasal sprays, saline irrigation, and oral corticosteroids. If these initial treatments are ineffective, you may require surgery to remove the polyps.
Speak with your doctor if you experience ongoing nasal symptoms. Never attempt to remove a nasal polyp on your own. This can lead to potentially serious complications like bleeding or infection.