Nasal polyps are basically soft, painless, noncancerous growths on the lining of your nasal passages or sinuses. They hang down like teardrops or grapes. They result from chronic inflammation because of asthma, recurring infection, allergies, drug sensitivity or certain immune disorders.
Small nasal polyps may have symptoms. Larger growths or groups of nasal polyps can block your nasal passages or result to breathing problems, a lost sense of smell and frequent infections.
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Nasal polyps can affect anyone, but they’re more common in adults. Medications can often reduce or eliminate nasal polyps, but surgery is sometimes required to remove them. Even after successful treatment, nasal polyps most often return.
Nasal polyps are linked with inflammation of the lining of your nasal passages and sinuses that lasts more than 12 weeks (chronic rhinosinusitis, also refered to as chronic sinusitis). However, it’s possible — and even somewhat more likely — to have chronic sinusitis without nasal polyps.
Nasal polyps themselves are soft and lack sensation, so if they’re small you may not be aware you have them. Multiple growths or a large polyp may block your nasal passages and sinuses.
Common signs and symptoms of chronic sinusitis with nasal polyps may include:
- A runny nose
- Persistent stuffiness
- Postnasal drip
- Decreased or absent sense of smell
- Loss of sense of taste
- Facial pain or headache
- Pain in your upper teeth
- A sense of pressure over your forehead and face
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if your signs and symptoms last more than 10 days. Symptoms of chronic sinusitis and nasal polyps are similar to those of many other conditions, including the common cold.
Seek immediate medical care or call 911 or your local emergency number if you have:
- Serious trouble breathing
- Sudden worsening of your symptoms
- Double vision, reduced vision or reduced ability to move your eyes
- Severe swelling around your eyes
- Increasingly severe headache accompanied by high fever or inability to tip your head forward
Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes nasal polyps. It’s not clear why some people develop chronic inflammation or why ongoing inflammation increases polyp formation in some people and not in others. The inflammation happens in the fluid-producing lining (mucous membrane) of your nose and sinuses. There’s some evidence that people who develop polyps have a different immune system response and different chemical markers in their mucous membranes than do those who don’t develop polyps.
Nasal polyps can form at any age, but they’re most frequent in young and middle-aged adults. Nasal polyps may form anywhere in your sinuses or nasal passages, but they appear most often in an area where sinuses near your eyes, nose and cheekbones all drain through winding passages into your nose (ostiomeatal complex).
Any condition that increases chronic inflammation in your nasal passages or sinuses, such as infections or allergies, may increase your risk of developing nasal polyps. Conditions often linked with nasal polyps include:
- Asthma,a disease that causes overall airway inflammation and constriction
- Aspirin sensitivitymay cause some people to be more likely to develop nasal polyps
- Allergic fungal sinusitis,an allergy to airborne fungi
- Cystic fibrosis,a genetic disorder that results in the production and secretion of abnormally thick, sticky fluids, including thick mucus from nasal and sinus membranes
- Churg-Strauss syndrome,a rare disease that causes the inflammation of blood vessels
Your family history also may play a role. There’s some evidence that certain genetic variations associated with immune system function make you more likely to develop nasal polyps.
Nasal polyps can cause complications since they block normal airflow and fluid drainage, and also because of the chronic inflammation underlying their development. Potential complications are inclusive of:
- Obstructive sleep apnea.In this potentially serious condition, you stop and start breathing frequently during sleep.
- Asthma flare-ups.Chronic rhinosinusitis can aggravate asthma.
- Sinus infections.Nasal polyps can make you more susceptible to sinus infections that rehappen often or become chronic.
You may help lower your chances of developing nasal polyps or having nasal polyps recur after treatment with the following strategies:
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- Manage allergies and asthma.Follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations for managing asthma and allergies. If your symptoms aren’t well-controlled, discuss with your doctor about changing your treatment plan.
- Avoid nasal irritants.As much as possible, avoid breathing airborne substances that are likely add to inflammation or irritation of your nose and sinuses, such as allergens, tobacco smoke, chemical fumes, and dust and fine debris.
- Practice good hygiene.Wash your hands often and thoroughly. This is one of the best ways to protect against bacterial and viral infections that can create inflammation of the nasal passages and sinuses.
- Humidify your home.Use a humidifier if the air in your home tends to be dry. This may help moisten your breathing passages, improve the flow of mucus from your sinuses, and help stop blockage and inflammation.
- Use a nasal rinse or nasal lavage.Use a saltwater (saline) spray or nasal lavage to rinse your nasal passages. This may improve mucus flow and take out allergens and other irritants.
You can buy over-the-counter saline sprays or nasal lavage kits with devices, such as a neti pot, to administer a rinse.
If you make your own rinse, use water that’s distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered using a filter with an absolute pore size of 1 micron or smaller to make up the irrigation solution. Also be sure to rinse the irrigation device after each use with similarly distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered water and leave open to air-dry.