Nasal polyps are small, soft tissue, and non-cancerous growths that reside inside your nasal cavity. A nasal polyp may look like a teardrop or a peeled grape. They are usually not noticeable but if they grow too large, they may cause obstruction of the nasal passages. They can also contribute to more severe side effects such as facial pain, sinus infection and loss of sense of taste and/or smell.

Causes of nasal polyps

Nasal polyps are caused by inflammation of the sinus passages. Allergies, asthma, or recurrent infections are often the cause of swelling and inflammation that creates nasal polyps. People with sensitivity to aspirin and those with certain immune diseases such as cystic fibrosis are more likely to get them. They are more common in adults than in children, and are usually small but can get large enough to be bothersome.

Symptoms of nasal polyps

As mentioned, small nasal polyps may not be noticeable but some may cause symptoms which can be irritating, such as:

  • Runny nose
  • Post nasal drip
  • Nasal congestion
  • Snoring
  • Slight bleeding when blowing nose

Other symptoms may indicate larger nasal polyps:

  • Decreased sense of smell
  • Decreased sense of taste
  • Facial pain or sinus pressure
  • Pain in the upper teeth
  • Itching around the eyes
  • Extreme nasal congestion

If you have any symptoms which are particularly bothersome or symptoms that last longer than a few weeks, you should see a physician.

Treatment of nasal polyps

Treatment of nasal polyps may require medications, allergy therapy, or surgery. In many cases, treatment may consist of a combination of all therapies. The size and location of the polyps as well as a patient’s symptoms will dictate the most effective therapy. Small polyps that are not causing any symptoms may be observed by your physician. If medical therapy is ineffective or your polyps are particularly large, surgery to remove the polyps is the best option. Symptoms such as loss of sense of smell or taste, difficulty breathing, facial pain or chronic sinus infections are signs that your polyps are large and blocking the nasal cavity. Surgery consists of a simple outpatient procedure. Nasal polyps tend to be recurrent, thus it is important that you follow up regularly with your physician to monitor for any recurrent polyps. If the polyps are identified while still small, often only simple therapy is needed to manage them.

When nasal polyps become harmful

In most cases, nasal polyps are simply harmless growths of skin in your nasal cavities but they can become harmful if you experience the following symptoms:

• Serious difficulty breathing • Symptoms that suddenly get worse • Double vision or difficulty moving your eyes • Severe swelling around the eyes • Worsening headache or headache with high fever

These symptoms may be caused by nasal polyps, but they may be indicative of something else such as an acute infection or other illness that needs immediate treatment.

In general, nasal polyps are not harmful; most people won’t ever know that they have them until they become symptomatic. However, if symptoms last for a long period of time or suddenly become more severe, you should always seek treatment from a physician.

(1) Mayo Clinic, Diseases and Conditions: Nasal Polyps, (3/08/2014)
(2) Medline Plus: Nasal Polyps, (8/12/2013)

Alan S. Berger, M.D.
Donald M. Sesso,M.D.