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Published by Bupa's health information team, May 2009.
This factsheet is for people who have nasal polyps, or who would like to know more information about them.
Nasal polyps are fleshy swellings of the lining of the nose. Common symptoms include a blocked nose and sneezing. Nasal polyps are often treated with nasal drops or spray to reduce the size of the polyps. Surgery is sometimes needed to remove the polyps.
About nasal polyps
Nasal polyps are shaped like tear drops and are usually yellowish, grey in colour. They develop singly or in clusters around the openings to your sinuses (air-filled spaces behind the bones of your face that open up into the nasal cavity). Nasal polyps often develop in the ethmoid sinuses that are behind the bridge of your nose, between your eyes. They usually grow on both sides of your nose and can completely block the nasal passage.
Nasal polyps can occur at any age but are most common in men over 40. They are rare in children between two and 10 years.
Symptoms of nasal polyps
If you have nasal polyps, your symptoms may include:
a blocked nose
mucus which can drain down the back of your nose into your throat (postnasal drip)
loss of smell and taste
change in voice
You may experience headaches and pain in your face. However, this is very rare. If the nasal polyps block your sinuses they can cause sinus infection.
Causes of nasal polyps
The exact cause of nasal polyps is not known. It's thought that nasal polyps may occur with infections.
Adults who have asthma or allergies are more likely to develop nasal polyps. People over the age of 40 who have asthma are four times more likely to have nasal polyps compared to people under 40 who have asthma. It's also thought that people who have aspirin intolerance are more likely to get nasal polyps.
Diagnosis of nasal polyps
If you think you have nasal polyps, visit your GP for advice. He or she will ask about your symptoms and do a physical examination. Your GP may also ask you about your medical history.
Your GP may advise you to have an allergy test and may recommend you take antihistamine tablets.
If only one nostril is affected, your GP will refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. You may need a biopsy of the polyp to make sure it's not a cancer.
Treatment of nasal polyps
If your nasal polyps are small, your GP may prescribe you corticosteroid nasal drops. This may help to reduce the size of the polyps. Once you have taken a course of this medication, you may be prescribed a corticosteroid nasal spray to make sure the polyps don't grow back. Nasal polyps shrink in eight out of 10 people who use nasal drops or spray. It may take around six weeks before you notice any improvement in your symptoms.
Larger polyps may need corticosteroid tablets followed by a nasal spray. Corticosteroid tablets can cause unwanted side-effects so you must take them over a short period of time.
If there is no improvement in your symptoms, or the nasal polyps completely block both your nasal airways, your GP will refer you to an ENT specialist for surgery. You may also need surgery if you regularly suffer from sinusitis.
Your ENT specialist may ask you to have a computerised tomography (CT) scan of your sinuses to show the size of your nasal polyps and where they have formed. This will help him or her to decide on the best surgical treatment.
In polypectomy surgery, the surgeon will usually remove your polyps under local or general anaesthetic. He or she will use an endoscope (a small tube used to look inside your nose). After the surgery you will normally be prescribed corticosteroid drops or a spray to prevent the polyps growing back.
Other types of surgery can be used to clear out and open up your sinuses. Ask your ENT specialist for more information on different types of surgery.
Polyps tend to grow back in three out of four people after around four years. If you think your polyps have come back, visit your GP for advice.
Nasal polyps Q&As
See our answers to common questions about nasal polyps, including:
- The British Association of Otorhinolaryngologists
020 7404 8373
- Beers MH, Fletcher AJ, Jones TV, et al. The Merck Manual of Medical Information. 2nd ed. New York: Pocket Books, 2003:1265
- Nasal polyps. The British Association of Otorhinolaryngologists. www.entuk.org, accessed 13 January 2008
- Source. www.gpnotebook.co.uk, accessed 13 January 2008
- Simon C, Everitt H, Kendrick T. Oxford handbook of general practice. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007:918
- Nasal polyps. GP Notebook. www.gpnotebook.co.uk, accessed 13 January 2008
- Valerie J Lund. Fortnightly review: diagnosis and treatment of nasal polyps. BMJ 1995; 311:1411-1414. www.bmj.com
- Nasal polyps. MERK. www.merck.com, accessed 14 January 2008
- Nasal polyps. Management. GP Notebook. www.gpnotebook.co.uk, accessed 13 January 2008
- Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary. 56th ed. London: British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, 2008:595
- Corbridge R, Steventon N. Oxford Handbook of ENT and Head and Neck Surgery. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006:132-135
- Surgical treatment of nasal polyps. GP Notebook. www.gpnotebook.co.uk, accessed 13 January 2008
This information was published by Bupa's health information team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by Bupa doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional
Publication date: May 2009