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If you’ve had a runny nose that seems to last for ages or if you find it difficult to breathe through your nose for long stretches, you may be one of the estimated 4 percent of American adults who suffers from nasal polyps. One of the most frequently misdiagnosed afflictions of the inner nose and sinus passages, nasal polyps are annoying and have the potential to be destructive if they’re left untreated. With additional unpleasant symptoms like reduced sense of smell and chronic runny nose, you shouldn’t leave nasal polyps untreated.
Nasal polyps are a fairly common type of growth that affects the inner lining of the nose or sinus passages, most often occurring where the sinuses widen into the nostril chamber. They are usually not painful or even tender to the touch, and it’s often said that full-grown polyps resemble grayish grapes attached to the inside of the nose. Nasal polyps are almost never malignant, but they do tend to grow over time as the tissue surrounding them becomes further inflamed by their presence.
Symptoms of Nasal Polyps
Nasal polyps cause a variety of symptoms that range in severity from annoying to downright damaging. In addition to chronic postnasal drip and runny nose, you’ll notice a progressive reduction in your ability to smell and taste over time. You may have difficulty breathing through your nose, be prone to sneezing fits, and suffer from chronic sinus infections. You may also notice more vague symptoms that may not seem directly related to your sinuses, including facial pain and itching about the eyes. Worst of all, facial polyps left untreated for long periods of time may damage the bones of your nose and face and promote irreversible bone loss.
Origins and Causes
Nasal polyps can be traced to several non-related conditions, some of which are more common in certain demographic groups. First, family history is important: if some of your forebears suffered either from nasal polyps or one of the underlying conditions responsible for causing them, you’ll be more likely to develop polyps at some point in your lifetime.
In otherwise healthy adults, nasal polyps most often occur after age 40. In individual patients, their exact origin is often unclear: They are considered both a symptom and a precursor of asthma. In young children, however, their presentation is a strong indication of cystic fibrosis and should be taken seriously.
Nasal polyps are frequently misdiagnosed as nasal tumors and swollen turbinates, which is an inflammation of certain nasal structures. Tumors are often malignant and can be ruled out with a biopsy taken by your ear, nose and throat doctor, while swollen turbinates can be ruled out with the “touch test” as they’re uniformly painful when stimulated.
You can’t make these distinctions on your own, however. If you suspect that you suffer from nasal polyps, see your ear, nose and throat doctor for a comprehensive sinus exam. How it works, is that your doctor will visually examine the inside of your nasal cavity and may order a CT scan to examine the internal structure of the growth or growths to determine whether there’s been any bone loss in the area. Concurrently, your doctor will order a thorough blood test to determine if you have antibodies to allergens known to promote polyp growth. The advent of these allergen-specific blood tests has dramatically increased the accuracy of nasal polyp diagnosis.
Treatment Options for Nasal Polyps
Nonspecific oral corticosteroids, which begin shrinking the growth and reducing related inflammation almost immediately, are the most common non-surgical treatment for nasal polyps. Due to the potential complications of long-term corticosteroid use, these drugs tend to be most effective if taken for short periods every few months. Alternatively, topical steroid sprays and direct steroid injections have proven effective at treating medium-sized polyps. All three of these drug types enjoy high rates of success: the vast majority of polyps respond to treatment within a few days.
Depending on the situation, surgery may be the best treatment option. Minor adult cases may be treated with a polypectomy, which essentially snips the offending node from the nasal cavity. More serious cases, especially those occurring in children with cystic fibrosis, require more-invasive electroscopic sinus surgery. Both of these are outpatient procedures with high rates of success and tend to arrest polyp growth for months or years.
Although most symptoms of nasal polyps will go away after a successful course of treatment, you may continue to have difficulty smelling and tasting at pre-polyp sensitivity levels if you wait too long to seek treatment. Due to their potentially permanent effects and their tendency to recur even after successful treatments, nasal polyps are sometimes considered a chronic condition. If you suspect that you suffer from polyps, don’t wait for your symptoms to worsen to get confirmation. Consult your doctor, devise a treatment plan, and start looking forward to normalcy once again!
Karen Boyarsky is a freelance blogger writing on behalf of www.healthtestingcenters.com. You can follow her on Twitter @Boyarsky_kareni