Nasal Polyps in Children

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Nasal polyps in children, or pediatric polyps, are harmless lumps of tissue that grow in your child's nasal passages. You might not even know they are there until they grow big enough to cause problems.

While these polyps might not affect your child much, they have the potential to reduce your child's sense of smell or make it difficult for your child to breathe by blocking the nostrils. When that happens, there are steps you can take at home and with medical treatments for nasal polyps that are safe for kids.

Young child's face close up

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How Do I Know If My Child Has Nasal Polyps?

Even if your child isn't able to tell you specifically what's bothering them, many symptoms of nasal polyps can be observed. If they are particularly large or low in the nasal passages, you might be able to see the polyps by looking into your child's nose.

Common symptoms of nasal polyps include:

  • Nasal congestion: This can alter the sound of your child's voice and lead to mouth breathing.
  • Runny nose: You might observe your child's nose running or notice frequent sniffling.
  • Decreased sense of smell: Your child might complain that they can't smell or taste their food, which is a side effect of decreased sense of smell.
  • Snoring: Nasal polyps interfere with airflow, which can lead to snoring.
  • Postnasal drip: You might hear your child frequently swallowing or trying to clear their throat if they've got postnasal drip. They might also complain that their throat feels sore or itchy.
  • Pressure in the face and/or forehead: Nasal polyps can cause a feeling of fullness in the face and/or forehead, but they do not typically cause pain.

Nasal polyps are more common in adults than children. They can grow in one or both nostrils. They are also shaped like pears or grapes and typically grow in clusters.

While nasal polyps are the most common cause of nasal obstruction in children, there can be other culprits, such as a deviated septum (when the nasal septum is off center), enlarged adenoids (glands above the roof of the mouth, behind the nose), and tumors (both cancerous and noncancerous).

Causes of Nasal Polyps in Children

The exact cause of nasal polyps is not known, but these growths are associated with chronic inflammation in the nasal passages. When they develop in children, they often occur with other medical conditions, such as:

  • Asthma: Symptoms of asthma often show up in childhood. This condition develops from chronic inflammation in the lungs. Children are more likely to develop asthma if they experience frequent viral respiratory infections.
  • Cystic fibrosis: This genetic disease causes mucus in the lungs (and other organs in the body) to become excessively thick, leading to chronic infections and difficulty breathing. Most cases of cystic fibrosis are diagnosed by the age of 2 years.
  • Chronic sinus infections: Nasal polyps keep your child's sinuses from draining mucus properly. Bacteria can build up in the mucus, leading to chronic infections.
  • Allergic rhinitis (hay fever): If your child has seasonal allergies, they are more likely to develop nasal polyps. Allergies cause chronic inflammation and swelling in the nasal passages—the same environment that leads to nasal polyps.
  • Aspirin sensitivity: Aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD) is a condition that has three distinct features: nasal polyps (from sinus disease), asthma, and sensitivity to aspirin (and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs). If someone has asthma, nasal polyps, and aspirin allergy, this is called Samter's triad.
  • Allergic fungal sinusitis (AFS): This condition is caused by fungi that are breathed in from the environment. AFS most commonly occurs in adolescents and young adults, rather than young children. People who develop AFS frequently also have nasal polyps.

Diagnosis

The first step in diagnosing nasal polyps is a physical exam performed by your child's pediatrician using an otoscope. This magnifying device has a light on the end and was initially designed for examining the ears, but it can also be inserted into the nostrils to look for polyps.

What Doctor Diagnoses Nasal Polyps?

If your child's pediatrician suspects nasal polyps, your child will likely be referred to a specialist, called an otolaryngologist, or ears, nose, and throat doctor (ENT).

Nasal endoscopy is also used to diagnose nasal polyps and is often performed in the doctor's office. This procedure uses an endoscope, which is a long, flexible tube with a light at the end of it. This tube is inserted into your child's nose and sinuses to look for potential polyps.

Less commonly, more imaging might be required to diagnose nasal polyps. This could include a CT (computed tomography) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Because nasal polyps often occur with other medical conditions, your doctor might also recommend allergy testing or other blood tests for your child. Other diseases can have similar presentations to nasal polyps, so it is always helpful to have an ear, nose and throat doctor examine the patient. For example, a benign tumor called a juvenile nasopharyngeal angiofibroma can cause symptoms that are very similar to symptoms from benign nasal polyps.

Treatment

If your child has nasal polyps, there are several effective ways of treating the condition and reducing uncomfortable symptoms.

Initial treatment for nasal polyps aims to shrink the size of the growths in your child's nose. Corticosteroid nasal spray decreases inflammation and swelling in the nose, which can effectively shrink or even get rid of nasal polyps. Your child's doctor might also prescribe oral steroid medications.

Other medications, such as antihistamines and decongestants, can improve your child's symptoms if they also have allergies. Infections are often treated with antibiotics. However, these medications do not treat the nasal polyps themselves.

If steroid medications aren't effective, and your child continues to have serious side effects from nasal polyps, surgery might be required. This procedure is performed using nasal endoscopy—the same procedure used for diagnosis. The polyps are then removed with tools such as graspers or a microdebrider.

The doctor might continue to have your child use a corticosteroid nasal spray after surgery to help prevent nasal polyps from growing back. Unfortunately, it is very common for nasal polyps to grow back.

When to Seek Medical Attention for Your Child

While nasal polyps aren't harmful to your child, there are circumstances that warrant a trip to the doctor. These include:

  • Thick yellow or green drainage from the nose
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing

Coping with Pediatric Nasal Polyps at Home

Home remedies can be helpful in reducing side effects of nasal polyps. These interventions can also reduce inflammation in your child's nose to help prevent nasal polyps from returning once they've been removed.

  • Keep it clean: Nasal irrigation—rinsing out the nasal passages with sterile saline—can decrease bacteria and congestion in the nasal passages, improving your child's ability to breathe. This can be done with a neti pot or saline nasal spray.
  • Humidify the air: Dry nasal passages can cause mucus to build up in your child's nose and sinuses. Use a humidifier if your child's bedroom to increase moisture in the air your child breathes while sleeping.
  • Avoid symptom triggers: If you child has allergies, avoiding nasal irritants such as smoke and dust can help prevent symptoms. Allergy testing can help determine the specific substances your child is allergic to.

A Word From Verywell

While nasal polyps aren't harmful, they can certainly make your child's life more difficult. Breathing issues impact everything from energy levels to a good night's sleep. Be proactive—talk to your child's doctor about treatment options and ways to reduce your child's symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do nasal polyps go away?

    No. Nasal polyps do not go away without treatment.

  • Are nasal polyps normal in children?

    No. Nasal polyps are abnormal growths in the nasal passages but are common in children with other medical conditions such as allergies or cystic fibrosis.

  • What happens if nasal polyps are not removed?

    If nasal polyps aren't causing issues with breathing, they don't have to be removed. However, large or multiple polyps can cause progressive issues if they are not removed or treated with medication.

  • Do nasal polyps bleed?

    Nasal polyps don't typically bleed but might bleed if they are irritated and inflamed.

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9 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. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Could nasal polyps be the cause of your stuffy nose?

  3. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Asthma. Updated December 3, 2020.

  4. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. About Cystic Fibrosis.

  5. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Aspirin-exacerbated respiratory disease (AERD). Updated September 28, 2020.

  6. Cedars-Sinai. Allergic fungal sinusitis.

  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Nasal endoscopy.

  8. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Nasal Polyps.

  9. Cleveland Clinic. Sinus infection (sinusitis). Updated June 4, 2020.