Nasal Polyps and Allergies

Nasal polyps are fleshy, watery-appearing swellings or growths that arise from the lining of the nasal and sinus cavities. They are found more commonly in patients with allergies, chronic sinusitis, and asthma. They are also associated with certain hereditary conditions, such as cystic fibrosis. Nasal polyps are non-cancerous. They may vary in size, and while generally benign, may cause problems by blocking the drainage pathways of the sinuses making a person more susceptible to developing sinus infections. Larger polyps may fill the entire nasal cavity and cause blockage to airflow. They may also cause a decrease in sense of smell.

True nasal polyps are generally bilateral. Nasal polyps found only on one side are unusual, and should be checked and possibly biopsied for the presence of cancer.

The exact cause of nasal polyps is unknown, but may be the result of chronic inflammation.
Patients with small nasal polyps may have no symptoms. Other common signs and symptoms of nasal polyps include:

  • persistent nasal congestion or stuffiness
  • runny nose
  • decreased or complete lack of sense of smell and/or taste
  • frequent sinus infections

Diagnosis of nasal polyps generally requires a nasal endoscopy and a CT (computerized tomography) scan of the sinuses. Nasal endoscopy is a more detailed examination of the nasal cavity using a small, lighted, magnified scope, usually performed by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat physician). This is an office procedure performed with some light, topical anesthesia. Testing for allergies may also be recommended.

Treatment of nasal polyps often includes management of underlying allergies, if present, and may include topical nasal steroid sprays, antihistamines, and allergy shots (allergy immunotherapy). Oral steroids, such as prednisone, are sometimes used to obtain temporary relief. Nasal polypectomy (removal of individual polyps) or endoscopic sinus surgery may be recommended in more extensive cases.

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