Nasal Polyp
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Nasal Polyp

(Nasal Polyposis)

Pronounced: NAY-suhl PAH-lip

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition

Nasal polyps are growths that develop on the inside of your nose or sinuses. Nasal polyps are benign, however there are certain tumors that present as simple polyps and should be evaluated by a specialist. You may have a single nasal polyp. Or, you may have several clustered together. Nasal polyps are soft and pearl-colored, with a texture like jelly. Nasal polyps can be treated. Contact your doctor if you think you have nasal polyps.

Nasal Polyps

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Causes

Doctors don’t know the cause of nasal polyps. Several factors may contribute to nasal polyps, including:

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. The following factors increase your chance of getting nasal polyps:

  • Sex: men
  • Age: older than 40
  • Aspirin sensitivity
  • Asthma
  • Churg-Strauss syndrome (a rare disease that inflames the blood vessels)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hay fever or other respiratory allergies
  • Frequent sinus infections

Symptoms

Very small nasal polyps may not cause any symptoms. Larger polyps may block the nose, making it difficult to breathe through the nose. They can also block the passage of odors and reduce the sense of smell. If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to nasal polyps. These symptoms may be caused by other health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician. Symptoms include:

  • Mouth breathing
  • A runny nose
  • Constant stuffiness
  • Loss or reduction of sense of smell or taste
  • Dull headaches
  • Snoring

Diagnosis

It is important to see a doctor with special training in diagnosing and treating nasal polyps, called otorhinolaryngologists or ear, nose, and throat doctors. Your primary care physician can refer you to a specialist. You can also find a provider in your area by searching the American Academy of Otolaryngology website.

The doctor will look at the inside of your nose to check for blockage.

This physical exam may include:

  • Putting cotton balls soaked in medicine inside your nose to reduce swelling for a clearer view inside the nose or spraying the inside of your nose with an anesthetic medication
  • Using a small instrument to look inside the nose
  • Gently pressing inside of the nose to check for swelling

The doctor will ask questions about:

  • Medication use
  • Your personal and family medical history

Other tests include:

  • CT scan—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of polyps inside the nose and sinuses
  • Sweat test—a test that measures the amount of sodium and chloride in the perspiration to check for cystic fibrosis . Cystic fibrosis is rare, but more likely in children with nasal polyps
  • Allergy skin tests—to see whether you have allergies
  • Biopsy of the polyp—to confirm the diagnosis

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

Medications

  • Nasal sprays to reduce swelling, increase nasal airflow, and help shrink polyps
  • Drugs to help reduce swelling and shrink polyps
  • Drugs to control allergies or infection, such as antihistamines for allergies or antibiotics for a bacterial infection

Surgery

  • Polypectomy—removing nasal polyps; if the polyps are small, this can be done in your doctor's office.
  • Endoscopic sinus surgery—removing the nasal polyps and opening the sinuses where the polyps form

Prevention

There are no guidelines for preventing nasal polyps because the cause is not known. But there are several things you can do to reduce your chances of developing nasal polyps:

  • For a stuffy or runny nose, use a preservative-free saline spray. This helps reduce irritation in the sinuses.
  • If you have hay fever or another allergy, see your doctor for treatment. Avoid the substance that causes your allergy.
  • If you have asthma or frequent sinus infections, take your medications as your doctor suggests.
  • If you have aspirin sensitivity, avoid all medications that contain aspirin.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
http://www.aaaai.org

American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery
http://www.entnet.org/

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
http://www.cff.org/home

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Allergy Asthma Information Association
http://aaia.ca/

Calgary Allergy Network
http://www.calgaryallergy.ca/

References:

Dalziel K, Stein K, Round A, Garside R, Royle P. Systematic review of endoscopic sinus surgery for nasal polyps. Health Technol Assess. 2003;7:1-159.

Larsen K. The clinical relationship of nasal polyps to asthma. Allergy Asthma Proc . 1996;17:243-249.

Lund VJ. Diagnosis and treatment of nasal polyps. BMJ. 1995;311:1411-1414.

Nasal polyps. Community Health Care Medical Library and Patient Education website. Available at: http://www.chclibrary.org . Accessed August 11, 2005.

Nasal polyps. DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamicmedical.com/dynamed.nsf?opendatabase . Accessed August 11, 2005.

Nasal polyps. Mayoclinic.com website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?id=DS00498 . Accessed August 11, 2005.

Nasal polyps. US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001641.htm . Accessed August 12, 2005.



Last reviewed January 2008 by Elie Edmond Rebeiz, MD, FACS

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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