Ear, Nose and Throat

How to Tell If You Have Nasal Polyps

Originally published February 27, 2018

Last updated April 23, 2024

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Do you have a runny or stuffed up nose? There might be more to your symptoms than just a head cold.

What are nasal polyps?

Nasal polyps are sac-like growths that form in the lining of your nasal passage and sinuses, often near the eyes, nose and cheekbones. They’re usually benign and may range in size — small polyps generally don’t cause any symptoms, but larger growths may block sinuses and nasal airways.

What causes nasal polyps?

“When the tissue that lines the nose and sinuses becomes inflamed, it can swell and form an obstructive outpouching, called a nasal polyp, that is not cancerous,” says Kevin Hur, MD, a rhinology specialist at Keck Medicine of USC.

Although experts haven’t identified a cause for nasal polyps, certain conditions, including asthma, hay fever, cystic fibrosis and chronic sinus infections may increase a person’s risk of developing polyps.

What are the symptoms of nasal polyps?

“While some patients develop no symptoms from nasal polyps, they can cause a range of symptoms that include nasal obstruction, facial pain and pressure, a runny nose and a decreased sense of smell,” says Dr. Hur, an assistant professor of otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Larger nasal polyps, depending on where they are in the nose, can lead to sneezing, snoring and headaches.

People with nasal polyps also report feeling like they have a constant head cold.

How do you treat nasal polyps?

“Nasal polyps are usually treated with medications first, such as nasal steroid sprays, oral steroids and nasal saline irrigations,” Dr. Hur says.

Even though you can’t prevent nasal polyps, the use of nasal sprays, antihistamines and allergy shots may keep them from blocking your airway. In addition, there are newer injection therapy treatments that could help prevent the polyps from returning.

If medical therapy doesn’t work, another treatment option for these growths is endoscopic sinus surgery, especially if your polyps are on the larger side. This procedure often makes it easier to breathe through your nose. But it’s important to note that nasal polyps do tend to recur.

“If left untreated, polyps can grow and obstruct the openings of the sinuses into the nasal cavity, causing difficulty sleeping, postnasal drip, fatigue and facial pressure,” he says.

Your doctor can help you decide which treatment options may work best for you.

How do you know if you have a nasal polyp?

“If you think you may have a nasal polyp, you should see a doctor who can look inside your nose with an endoscope or order a CT scan to evaluate your sinuses,” Dr. Hur says.

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Deanna Pai
Deanna Pai is a freelance writer and editor.