Treating Nasal Polyps

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6 Conditions That Cause Nasal Polyps

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Do you feel like you’ve caught a never-ending cold or a sinus infection that keeps coming back? There may be more going on in your nose than you think. Your symptoms may be caused by nasal polyps: soft, painless growths that hang down like teardrops on the lining of your nasal passages or sinuses. These pile on inflammation and block airways. Nasal polyps are not cancer, but they do need to be addressed. Learn about conditions that can contribute to or cause nasal polyps and have an informed conversation with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment.

1. Chronic Sinusitis

If your “sinus infection” goes on for weeks and months, you may have chronic sinusitis, also known as chronic rhinosinusitis or CRS. This condition puts you at greater risk of nasal polyps. In fact, about 20% of the millions of people around the world with chronic sinusitis also have nasal polyps. Chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps (CRSwNP) most often affects people in their 30s and 40s, but it can affect anyone of any age. Tell your doctor if you have a stuffy or runny nose, sinus pressure, or loss of smell or taste for 10 days or more. 

2. Asthma

Up to 39% of those with adult-onset asthma also have nasal polyps. The medical term for having nasal polyps and asthma is “nasal polyps and comorbid asthma,” or “NPcA.” NPcA is considered a severe united airway disease. While having asthma puts you at higher risk of developing nasal polyps, the connection goes both ways: up to 45% of those with nasal polyps go on to develop adult-onset asthma. Anyone with asthma should have regular touchpoints with their doctor to ensure good asthma control, including appropriate management of related conditions.

3. Nasal Allergies

A nasal allergy, or allergic rhinitis, causes inflammation in the nose that can lead to nasal polyps. There are two main types of allergic rhinitis. Seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is triggered by pollen from grass, weeds, and trees, usually in the spring and fall.  Perennial allergic rhinitis is triggered by animal dander, mold, and dust mites year-round. Symptoms of allergic rhinitis are like the common cold, but they last longer and tend to involve more itchiness in the nose and eyes.

4. Allergic Fungal Sinusitis

Fungi in the environment can cause allergic fungal sinusitis (AFS). Like a nasal allergy, fungi cause inflammation in the nose. They also slow or block the drainage of mucus from the sinuses. AFS can lead to both nasal polyps and chronic sinusitis. One sign of AFS is thick, sticky mucus. Your doctor can take a quick sample of your mucus and test it for AFS. A proper diagnosis is important, because AFS can damage your eyesight and sense of smell if it’s not treated. You can develop allergic fungal sinusitis at any age, but it’s more common in teenagers and young adults.   

5. Aspirin Sensitivity

Aspirin sensitivity can cause life-threatening breathing problems that may exacerbate nasal inflammation and encourage nasal polyps to form. If you have a sensitivity to aspirin or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), plus chronic sinusitis, plus asthma, you have what’s known as aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD). Other common names for the condition are ASA Triad and Sampter’s Triad. Some people with the condition benefit from aspirin desensitization. It’s a process in which your doctor exposes you to a small dose of aspirin that is increased gradually to raise your tolerance until your sensitivity is gone.

6. Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis, or CF, is a genetic disorder that causes mucus to build up in the body and block the airways. This leads to lung infections, breathing problems, and nasal polyps. Nasal polyps develop in up to 60% of people who have cystic fibrosis. Doctors can use a few different tests to diagnosis cystic fibrosis, and 75% of people who have it are diagnosed by the time they’re two years old.

There’s a lot to learn about what’s causing your nasal discomfort and polyps. Fortunately, there are also lots of treatments that can give you relief. Look for a doctor who will listen to your unique experience and work through the complexities of your specific case with you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Mar 19
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