How to Tell If You Have Nasal Polyps

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Nasal polyps are soft, harmless growths that can develop in your nose or sinuses. While these polyps aren't typically painful, they can cause irritating symptoms and potential complications. Learn more about the signs and symptoms, diagnosis, and complications associated with nasal polyps in this article.

Man's nose

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How Nasal Polyps Form

The exact cause of nasal polyps is not known, but they typically develop from long-term inflammation in the nasal passages and sinuses. They occur more commonly in people with certain medical conditions. These include:

Signs and Symptoms

It's possible to have nasal polyps and not even know it. However, these growths can be very large and tend to grow in clusters, which can eventually cause problems. Common signs and symptoms of nasal polyps include:

  • Congestion
  • Headaches
  • Runny nose
  • Decreased sense of smell
  • Decreased sense of taste
  • Postnasal drip
  • Nosebleeds
  • Snoring
  • Pain or pressure in the sinuses or upper jaw
  • Difficulty breathing through the nose

Diagnosis

Diagnosing nasal polyps begins with a visit to your doctor. Based on your symptoms alone, your doctor might suspect you have polyps.

Polyps can sometimes be seen using an otoscope—a device originally designed for looking in the ears. This tool has a light and magnifier on the end of it, allowing your doctor to look into your nostrils. If your nasal polyps are very low in your nose, you might even be able to see them in the mirror.

A Specialist Who Diagnoses Nasal Polyps

Polyps that are farther up in the nasal passages or in your sinuses can't be seen during a basic medical exam. Your doctor will likely refer you to a specialist, such as an otolaryngologist, also called an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor.

The next step in diagnosis of nasal polyps is a procedure called nasal endoscopy. This involves placing a thin, flexible tube with a camera and light at the end of it, called an endoscope, up through your nostrils and into your sinuses.

Endoscopy can often be performed in the doctor's office after the doctor numbs your nasal passages. Less commonly, other types of imaging are performed, such as a CT (computed tomography) scan or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), to help diagnose nasal polyps.

Complications

Nasal polyps can lead to difficulty breathing if they grow large enough to block your nostril(s). You might notice that you have trouble sleeping, or even develop a condition called obstructive sleep apnea. If you sleep with a partner, they might notice your symptoms before you do.

Symptoms of sleep apnea can include:

  • Snoring
  • Fatigue during the day (even after a full night's rest)
  • Mood swings
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Sensations of gasping or choking during sleep
  • Headaches
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Frequently waking up to urinate at night
  • Night sweats
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Stoppage of breath during sleep

Consult your doctor if you have symptoms of sleep apnea. You might need a sleep study, or polysomnogram, to record your breathing patterns during the night to test for this condition.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Seek medical attention if your nasal polyps are making it difficult to breathe or causing symptoms that interfere with your daily life. Treatment for nasal polyps initially aims to shrink the size of the polyps or possibly eliminate them altogether.

Treatment

Corticosteroid nasal sprays are commonly used to treat nasal polyps and are effective for most people with this condition. Sometimes oral corticosteroid medications are also prescribed to help reduce inflammation that is contributing to the development of polyps.

A new class of medications has become available for nasal polyps. These are called biologics. They are often effective, but they are also expensive and require seeing a specialist before they can be prescribed.

If medications aren't successful, you might need surgery to remove your nasal polyps. This is performed using endoscopy—the same procedure the doctor may use to diagnose your condition. In addition to the endoscope, a tool such as graspers or a microdebrider are inserted through your nostril and used to remove the growths.

Unfortunately, nasal polyps can grow back after they've gone away with medication or been removed with surgery. Your doctor might continue to have you use corticosteroid nasal spray to help prevent nasal polyps from growing back.

Prevention

Saline nasal sprays and humidifiers can also keep your nasal passages moist and help prevent inflammation. Nasal irrigation, or rinsing your nasal passages with a neti pot, can also be beneficial for removing bacteria and thinning mucus that can contribute to breathing difficulties.

A Word From Verywell

If you've got nasal symptoms that won't go away or are causing difficulty with your breathing, see your doctor. Even if you've got nasal polyps, they might not be the source of your discomfort. More medical interventions might be needed, such as allergy testing, to determine the best course of treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you see nasal polyps?

    If you've got very large nasal polyps, or growths that are low in your nasal passages, you might be able to see them in the mirror.

  • Can you feel nasal polyps with your finger?

    Nasal polyps that grow in your nostrils may be felt with your finger. They are typically soft and shaped like teardrops.

  • Are nasal polyps hard or soft?

    Nasal polyps are soft. If you have hard growths in your nostrils, it might be something else, such as acne or an abscess.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cedars-Sinai. Nasal polyps.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Nasal polyps. Updated February 5, 2021.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Nasal endoscopy.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Sleep apnea. Updated March 3, 2020.

  5. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Nasal polyps.