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Nasal Polyps: Causes, Symptoms And Treatments

Nasal polyps are non-cancerous growths which get attached to the nasal mucosa and they typically cause a runny, blocked nose and breathing discomfort. They often accompany the allergic inflammation of the nasal airways and also rhinosinusitis. The treatment includes nasal drops based on steroids and sometimes surgery. Because they have a high rate of recurrence ( around 70%), doctors recommend the daily use of steroid nasal sprays.

A nasal polyp is an abnormal, soft mass of tissue which arises from the mucous membranes inside the nose or the sinuses. Polyps in the nose differ in color and size. They can be pink, grey or yellowish and they commonly have a grape-like appearance, although it is possible to appear only a single polyp. Nasal polyps are benign and freely movable mucosal overgrowths and they are divided into two main types – antrochoanal and ethymoidal polyps. Antrochoanal polyps are single and unilateral polyps which originate from the maxillary sinuses and they are frequently found in children. Ethymoidal polyps are predominant in adults and they are bilateral and multiple.

What Causes Nasal Polyps?

The cause of nasal polyps is unknown in most cases. It is believed that allergies and chronic inflammation of the nasal mucosa cause a swelling of the lining of the nose, although some cases are associated with non-allergic asthma in adults. Nasal polyps typically affect both nostrils and they progressively increase their size, eventually leading to blockage of the nasal airways. Excessive sneezing and gravity determine the swelling to hang down, thus forming the polyps.

Nasal polyps can also form in the maxillary sinuses, the largest sinuses in humans and which are found just under the eyes. The reason is that the lining of the sinuses is similar to the nasal lining. These fleshy, non-tender swellings often accompany chronic rhinosinusitis, which is an inflammation of both the nose and the sinuses. Polyp formation is also associated with other conditions, such as cystic fibrosis (1 in 2 people with cystic fibrosis also have nasal polyps), asthma, aspirin sensitivity/intolerance as well as with rare conditions affecting the nose, such as Young s syndrome, fungal allergic sinusitis, nasal mastocytosis and Churg-Strauss syndrome. Exposure to certain forms of chromium can also be among the risk factors.

Who Gets Nasal Polyps?

They affect all age groups, but most commonly they occur in adults over the age of 40. About 1 in 100 individuals are affected by nasal polyps at some point in their life. They are four times more frequently found in men than in women and they are typically uncommon in children. If a child has nasal polyps, it is possible that the child has cystic fibrosis too, because the latter is a major risk factor for nasal polyps.

What Are The Symptoms Of Nasal Polyps?

Initially, a stuffed or runny nose might give you the impression that you have the flu or a cold. While colds last for up to 2 weeks and they usually improve without specific treatment, the symptoms of nasal polyps will not disappear on their own.
They include:

  • Difficulty breathing and the sensation that something is blocking your airways and nose, due to nasal congestion. Because of this, you might end up breathing through your mouth, a stressful situation especially during nighttime, because your sleep pattern is affected. It might lead to sleep disturbances and the impossibility to get a good night s sleep, due to sleep apnea ( abnormal pauses in breathing while you sleep)
  • A runny nose is another common symptom
  • Impaired or even loss of your sense of smell and taste
  • Large-sized nasal polyps in particular, often cause the occurrence of post-nasal drip, giving you the sensation that something ( mucus) runs down the back of your throat;
  • Larger nasal polyps also cause a secondary infection, which leads to migraines or headaches that differ in intensity. Also, because these large polyps lead to obstructive sleep apnea ( your nasal airways are obstructed and you cannot breathe properly while you sleep), snoring is another common symptom;
  • A stuffed nose may also cause changes in the way your voice sounds;
  • The risk of sinusitis increases, because these polyps block the drainage path of the sinuses into the nose;
  • Left untreated, larger nasal polyps may cause your nose and front of your face to enlarge, although it is very rare. In case extremely large nasal polyps press on the nerves responsible for sending vision signals, double vision may occur.

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