Signs and Symptoms of Nasal Polyps

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Nasal polyps can result in a range of symptoms, including a decreased sense of smell and/or taste, difficulty breathing through the nose, runny nose, post-nasal drip, headache, cough, sinus pain or pressure, itching around the eyes, snoring, facial pain, pain in the upper teeth.

Woman with Sinus Pain Presses Nose

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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. 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.

Who Is Most At Risk for Developing Nasal Polyps?

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.

Frequent Symptoms

It can be difficult to determine if a person has nasal polyps. This is because, in some cases, they don't experience any symptoms at all, and in other cases, it simply feels like a normal—but neverending—head cold.

The symptoms of nasal polyps can include a combination of the following:

  • 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

Complications

The main complications of nasal polyps are similar to some of the symptoms listed above: namely, having difficulty breathing through the nose, and a loss of taste and/or smell.

Loss of Taste and Smell

If you lose your taste and smell due to nasal polyps, there is a chance that it will never come back.

The other potential complications from nasal polyps would be a result of having them surgically removed. In that situation, complications can include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • The possibility of the nasal polyps coming back in the future

However, in some situations, nasal polyps can lead to other health problems. The most common of these is sinusitis (a sinus infection), which may require antibiotics if it is caused by a bacterial infection.

Other potential—though more serious and less common—complications of nasal polyps may include:

  • Meningitis: Infection of the tissue around the brain and spinal cord
  • Orbital cellulitis: Infection around the tissue around the eye
  • Osteitis: Infection of the sinus bones
  • Obstructive sleep apnea: When large nasal polyps can block nasal passageway during sleep

Additional Risk Factors

While researchers are still trying to pinpoint the cause of nasal polyps, one theory is that they may be genetic—especially in cases involving genes that play a role in the immune system and inflammatory response.

Additionally, if a person has an underlying inflammation of tissue, they may be more likely to develop nasal polyps, along with those who have the following conditions:

If a person has nasal polyps, asthma, and an allergy to aspirin, it is called Samter's triad (ST).

When to See a Doctor

If you find that it's more difficult to breathe through your nose than usual—especially if you aren't dealing with a cold or allergies—it's a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Similarly, if you lose your sense of taste and/or smell, or have what feels like a head cold or sinus infection that never goes away, it's time to seek medical treatment.

At the appointment, your health care provider will look in your nose and may have to do a nasal endoscopy to get a good look at the full extent of the polyps. 

Severe Cases

In more severe cases, the doctor may need to do a CT scan of your sinuses because older polyps may have broken down into the bone inside your sinuses.

A Word From Verywell

Because nasal polyps can feel like a range of common upper respiratory conditions, it can be difficult to know when you have them. That's why it's important to pay attention to how long your nose feels blocked or you experience sinus pressure.

Talk to your doctor if anything seems out of the ordinary or you notice any sudden changes to your ability to breathe through your nose.

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  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Nasal polyps.

  2. MedlinePlus. Nasal polyps. Updated August 12, 2019.

  3. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Nasal polyps. Updated June 28, 2019.

  4. Cedars-Sinai. Nasal polyps.