Nasal polyps are benign (non-cancerous) growths that grow in the lining of the nose or the paranasal sinuses, the cavities in the skull lined with mucus membranes and connect to the nasal cavity. While nasal polyps themselves are not painful, they can sometimes occur with sinus inflammation (sinusitis) that can cause pain and headaches.
While it is not entirely clear why some people are more prone to developing nasal polyps than others, there is a link between nasal polyps and inflammation of the nasal passages and sinuses from other conditions. People with asthma, allergic rhinitis (allergies), recurring sinus infections and some autoimmune conditions are more likely to develop nasal polyps.
When nasal polyps are small, they may not cause any noticeable symptoms. Moderately-sized, large and numerous nasal polyps, however, can cause a range of symptoms that may mimic other conditions. People who have nasal polyps may have cold-like symptoms that last several months, or even a couple of years if they are not recognized and treated. Symptoms of nasal polyps include runny nose, nasal congestion, decreased sense of taste or smell, feeling like one or both nasal passages are blocked off, breathing through the mouth and snoring. If sinus inflammation is also involved, there may also be a feeling pressure in the nose, cheeks, forehead and around the eyes, and painful sinus headaches may occur.
Nasal polyps may be diagnosed in the doctor’s office by just shining a light up the nose, if they are located in the nasal cavity and large enough to be visible. Nasal polyps in the sinuses may require the use of an endoscope to see. The endoscope is a lighted camera on a small flexible tube; in this case, it is inserted into the nostril so that the doctor can see into the sinuses. Alternately, a CT scan or MRI scan may be used to see deeper nasal polyps. Other tests may be used to rule out other conditions that may be suspected, if necessary.
Nasal polyps are usually treated with medications to help control the symptoms. The first treatment usually used is a corticosteroid spray, sprayed directly into the nasal cavity to reduce inflammation. If the spray version of corticosteroids do not help, oral corticosteroids or injections of corticosteroids may be given. Other medications, like antibiotics or antihistamines may be appropriate in the case of sinus infections and allergies, respectively. Nasal polyps may be removed surgically if the symptoms persist. However, the chances of polyps growing back once they are removed is fairly high, so even this is sometimes a temporary treatment. Surgery for nasal polyps is usually a fairly simple outpatient procedure. If the polyps are located in the sinuses, an endoscope is used to locate and remove them; if they are in the nasal cavity, they can usually be removed directly.