What Are Nasal Polyps?

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Nasal polyps are growths that result from inflamed mucous membranes in the sinuses and nasal passages. They can extend to the opening of the nostrils or even down to the throat area and can block the nasal passages, causing congestion, headache, and loss of smell, among other things.

Nasal polyps are often related to other chronic diseases and tend to last for long periods of time. They can even grow back after medical treatments or surgical removal.

Nose exam

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Nasal Polyp Symptoms

The majority of people with nasal polyps will experience nasal congestion, which may be severe and not helped by standard allergy medications.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Runny nose with clear or colored mucus
  • Loss or decreased sense of smell and taste
  • Postnasal drip
  • Headache
  • Sinus pressure
  • Facial pain

Nasal polyps vary in size, and small polyps may cause no symptoms. Larger polyps may bring symptoms and block the nasal passages. If polyps block the nasal passages, a sinus infection can develop.

A person with severe nasal polyps may actually be able to see the polyps in their nostrils. They are a glistening translucent gray color, resembling clumps of clear gelatin.

Long-standing nasal polyps can lead to a widening of the nasal bridge, which can result in the eyes appearing to be farther apart.


Nasal polyps can occur along with many other respiratory diseases such as:

  • Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
  • Chronic sinusitis (due to bacterial and fungal infections)
  • Asthma
  • Aspirin exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD)
  • Cystic fibrosis

Nasal polyps can also be a sign of immunodeficiency diseases. For example, nasal polyps can be a sign of cystic fibrosis. Other immunodeficiencies, such as primary ciliary dyskinesia and eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (EGPA), can also be associated with nasal polyps.


In some situations, a healthcare provider can make a nasal polyp diagnosis by examining the nasal passages using an otoscope (a simple lighted tool usually used to look inside the ears). Diagnosis may come via nasal endoscopy, which entails placing a small camera into the nose to get a better look at the nasal passages. The majority of patients can be diagnosed with either nasal endoscopy or visual inspection.

Sometimes, a CT scan ("cat scan") of the sinuses is needed to make a diagnosis. The sinus CT scan allows for better characterization of the extent of disease in sinuses that cannot be reached through endoscopy.

Since other diseases are often present when a person has nasal polyps, further diagnostic tests may need to be performed.


Nasal polyps may be treated with both surgical and medical therapies.

In severe cases, or in cases where medication is ineffective, sinus surgery is often required to remove large nasal polyps and resolve any accompanying sinus infection. With an endoscopic procedure, which uses a long lighted tube inserted into the nostril, you can usually be sent home the same day.

It's important to note that even after successful surgery, polyps may recur.

The best therapy for nasal polyps usually involves the use of surgical therapies followed by medical therapies, as this approach helps reduce the chance that the polyps will grow back.

Nasal Steroid Sprays and Drops

Topical nasal steroid sprays, such as Flonase (fluticasone propionate) and Nasonex (mometasone furoate), can help reduce the size of nasal polyps and prevent polyps from growing back after surgery.

Some healthcare providers use nasal steroid drops rather than sprays in order to better penetrate the nasal passages and reach the nasal polyps.

The FDA recently approved XHANCE, a spray that enters the nasal passages via an oral mechanism.


Oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone, can quickly shrink the size of nasal polyps and are helpful in people with severe symptoms.

After a short course of corticosteroids (about one to two weeks), however, topical nasal steroid sprays are usually able to control symptoms better and prevent the polyps from growing larger.

In some cases, such as when fungal sinusitis is the cause of nasal polyps, low-dose oral corticosteroids may be required for weeks to months after surgery in order to prevent polyps from growing back.

Antileukotriene Medications

Oral antileukotriene medications, such as Singulair (montelukast), are theoretically beneficial in people with nasal polyps, especially those with an aspirin allergy.

People with an aspirin allergy are known to have high levels of leukotrienes, so medications that block these chemicals should help to reduce symptoms of chronic sinus disease and polyp formation.

Nasal Saline Irrigation

Nasal saline irrigation can be especially helpful in people with nasal polyps and chronic sinus infections. This is especially true for those who have had sinus surgery, as saline can rinse out the sinuses and not just the nasal passages.

Allergy Shots

Some allergists use allergy shots in an attempt to treat or prevent nasal polyps from growing back after surgery.

Some data support the use of allergy shots in those with allergic fungal sinusitis.


These may be prescribed in cases of sinus infection.


In 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Dupixent (dupilumab) for treatment of rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps.

Dupilumab is a monoclonal antibody initially approved for treatment of dermatitis and asthma, but the drug also targets inflammation that may cause polyps.

Studies have found polyp patients treated with dupilumab enjoyed reduced polyp size and severity of symptoms, and the drug was well tolerated. Your healthcare provider will know if dupilumab is appropriate for you.

Additional therapies are being evaluated for safety and efficacy in treating nasal polyposis and may be available in the future.

Know that even if polyps are successfully eliminated, loss of smell or taste does not always improve following treatment with medicine or surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you know if you have nasal polyps?

    Some people have nasal polyps without any symptoms while others have nasal polyps that cause problems. Nasal polyps often cause severe nasal congestion that can be accompanied by a runny nose, postnasal drip, headaches, sinus pressure, facial pain, and a decreased sense of smell or taste.

  • What happens if nasal polyps go untreated?

    Nasal polyps will not go away on their own. Left untreated, they will continue to cause symptoms. Polyps can grow and block nasal passages. This can cause symptoms to worsen and lead to recurring sinus infections.

    Polyps can be treated with oral medications, nasal sprays, and, in some cases, surgery to remove the growths.

  • Are nasal polyps cancer?

    Typically no. The majority of nasal polyps are benign (noncancerous) growths in the nose and sinus cavity mucous membranes. If a growth in your nose looks suspicious, your healthcare provider will send you for further testing. Most of the time, however, nasal polyps are not a sign of cancer.

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4 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.
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