How Nasal Polyps Are Diagnosed

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Non-cancerous growths inside the nasal cavity and/or sinuses, called nasal polyps, often don't have symptoms—and when they do, the symptoms are very similar to those associated with colds, allergies, and sinus infections.

While it's not possible to self-diagnose nasal polyps, doctors are able to perform a few different tests to help determine if a person has nasal polyps.

Woman Suffers Sinus Pain While Working on Desktop Computer

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What Are Nasal Polyps?

Nasal polyps are soft, swollen, abnormal, sac-like growths that line the inside of a person's nose or sinuses. They are often teardrop-shaped, and grow together in groups on both sides of a person's nasal cavity.

One-Sided Nasal Polyps

One-sided nasal polyps typically trigger further investigation, as they may be malignant nasal or sinus tumors.

Though nasal polyps themselves are not a form of cancer, it is possible for other growths to form in the nasal cavity that are cancerous—though they are not considered polyps.

Frequently, nasal polyps grow where the sinuses open into the nasal cavity and can vary in size. While small polyps may not cause any problems—and may not be noticeable—larger polyps can block your sinuses or nasal airway, making it difficult to breathe.

In general, nasal polyps are quite common, and anyone can develop them, though they tend to most frequently appear when a person is in their 30s and 40s.

Symptoms of Nasal Polyps

In some cases, people with nasal polyps don't experience any symptoms at all. For others, they may simply feel as though they have a normal (but never-ending) head cold or sinus infection. The symptoms of nasal polyps can include a combination of thefollowing:

  • Runny nose
  • Stuffed up nose
  • Sneezing
  • Feeling like your nose is blocked
  • Loss of smell
  • Loss of taste
  • Headache and pain if you also have a sinus infection
  • Snoring
  • Itching around the eyes
  • Facial pain
  • Pain in the upper teeth
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Cough

Common Causes of Nasal Polyps

Because the exact causes of nasal polyps are not yet known, it can be helpful to look at other conditions and symptoms that people with the growths tend to have. For instance, if a person has an underlying inflammation of tissue, they may be more likely to develop nasal polyps.

Frequently, the inflammation of the nose and sinus cavities are a result of chronic rhinosinusitis—which is a very common medical conditions, affecting approximately 12% of adults worldwide. And approximately 20% of people with chronic rhinosinusitis have nasal polyps.

Similarly, people who have the following conditions may also develop nasal polyps:

Physical Examination

There is no way to do a self-check for nasal polyps at home. Instead, if you are having difficulty breathing through your nose, experiencing a prolonged cold or sinus infection, or have lost your sense of taste or smell, it's a good idea to see your doctor. The first thing a doctor will do is look inside your nose, using one of the following instruments:

  • Otoscope (which is also used to examine the inside of ears)
  • Nasal speculum
  • Posterior rhinoscopy mirror

Self Diagnosis

There is no way to self diagnosis nasal polyps at home. You need to see a doctor.

Nasal Endoscopy

If further investigation is needed, the doctor may order a nasal endoscopy—typically performed by an ear, nose, and throat doctor (otolaryngologist) in their office—to get a full look at the polyps and help determine how best to treat them.

An endoscope is a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera and a light, that, in this case, is inserted into the nose. The doctor then guides the tube through a person's nasal and sinus passages, allowing them to see images of the area that can only be seen through the endoscope.

Imaging

In order to diagnose nasal polyps that are deeper in the sinus cavities or aren't clearly seen during the nasal endoscopy, your doctor may order some type of imaging test to help get a clearer picture of the problem. These procedures may include:

  • CT scan: X-rays pass through the nose and create images that are analyzed by a computer
  • MRI: Uses a magnetic field to make an image of structures inside your body, like the nasal cavities and sinuses

A Word from Verywell

A nasal endoscopy may be uncomfortable, but it will help your doctor determine if you have nasal polyps, and if so, how best to treat them. For example, they may come across polyps that are quite large and, once removed, should result in your ability to breathe better.

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  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Nasal endoscopy.

  5. Cedars-Sinai. Nasal polyps.