Up to 12% of adults suffer from chronic sinusitis—a condition that leads to long periods of nasal inflammation. One thing they all have in common (besides needing lots of tissues) is that they’re at risk of developing nasal polyps.
“We don’t know exactly what causes chronic sinusitis, and we also don’t know why some people with it develop polyps and others don’t,” says Jacob Eide, M.D., a rhinologist at Henry Ford Health. “But we do know the two conditions are closely linked.”
What Are Nasal Polyps?
Nasal polyps are noncancerous (benign) growths that develop inside the nasal passages. “They are small masses and can look like tiny water balloons,” says Dr. Eide. “Typically, they form in groups and occur on both sides of the nose.”
If you do have a growth in just one nostril, Dr. Eide recommends having it checked out to make sure it’s not something more serious than a polyp.
When left untreated, nasal polyps tend to grow larger over time. Most people don’t know they have polyps until the growths become big enough to cause symptoms such as:
- Congestion in the nose and nasal passages
- Decreased sense of smell or taste
- Increased nasal drainage (runny nose)
- Pain or pressure in the sinuses
Who Gets Nasal Polyps?
Polyps develop in response to inflammation in the nose and sinus cavities. That’s why people with chronic sinusitis are most at risk. About 20% of people who suffer from chronic sinusitis will also develop nasal polyps.
“There are two types of inflammation that occur in the nasal passages—the type that fights off bacteria and viruses and the type that’s related to allergies and fighting off parasites,” says Dr. Eide. “We don’t entirely know why, but people with asthma and higher allergic response seem to be more likely to develop polyps.”
If you have severe asthma—which leads to chronic inflammation—you may also be at a higher risk of developing nasal polyps.
What’s The Treatment For Nasal Polyps?
Typically, your doctor can diagnose nasal polyps during a physical exam. They’ll numb your nostrils and look into the nasal cavities using an endoscope (a thin lighted tube with a camera on the end).
Treatment for nasal polyps can be tailored to your symptoms. And while they often require long-term management, several treatments can help keep polyps from regrowing. These include:
- Oral antibiotics and/or steroids (to treat infection and inflammation)
- Steroid nasal spray or rinse to reduce inflammation in the nasal passages
- Injections (typically done in collaboration with an allergist) of dupilumab, a medication used to treat certain allergic conditions
- Sinus surgery to remove the polyps, if other methods don’t bring relief
Keeping nasal polyps from recurring requires you to stick with your treatment regimen, says Dr. Eide. “If we can effectively treat the underlying chronic sinusitis, about 95% of people won’t have their polyps return,” he says.
Ongoing treatment usually involves regular use of some type of topical steroid medication (nasal spray or rinse).
When Should I See A Doctor?
If you have nasal symptoms—congestion, runny nose, sinus pain or pressure—that last for three months or longer, you should consult your doctor. “There’s not one symptom that relates specifically to nasal polyps,” says Dr. Eide. “But getting treatment for chronic sinusitis is key for treating nasal polyps.”
Reviewed by Jacob Eide, M.D., a rhinologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Plymouth and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.