Sinus polyps are growths or swollen tissue in the sinuses that may obstruct breathing or make it hard for sinuses to drain. Causes of these growths are varied, and include usually fairly constant inflammation of the sinus tissue, which might be the result of allergies, frequent viral and bacterial infections or fungal infections. Some conditions, such as cystic fibrosis (CF), tend to have a high incidence of sinus polyps too.
Small polyps in the nasal passages or in other parts of the sinuses may not be noticed and people could have few symptoms to suggest their presence. Other times, it may feel like a cold is constantly present and symptoms might include congested nose and dripping on the back of the throat. Over time if sinus polyps increase in size and number, pain in the head and face may be common, and people might lose sense of taste or smell and have difficulty with snoring, even to the point of developing sleep apnea. A very large polyp may make it difficult to breath through the nose, and in general, polyps that are untreated can lead to frequent sinus infections.
Diagnosis of sinus polyps is usually achieved through one of two methods. Sometimes those that are close to the nasal opening may be visualized by simply looking up the nose with a lighted scope. Alternately, doctors might use a procedure called endoscopy. A tube that may have a tiny camera on it is inserted in the nose and the sinuses are visualized. This allows doctors to spot presence of numerous polyps if they exist.
Other tests can be performed to diagnose polyps or their potential causes, and these include performing allergy testing, and swabbing the nose for presence of bacteria or fungi. Doctors may also want to do a computerized tomography scan (CT) to locate a high number of sinus polyps and to make certain that there aren’t other problems in the sinuses like cancerous tumors.
There are many potential treatments for sinus polyps. These can include using nasal sprays that contain corticosteroids, like budesonide and fluticasone, to shrink inflamed tissue. If the problem is severe, doctors might consider giving oral corticosteroids also to reduce swelling more quickly. If the polyps are due to allergic inflammation, physicians could prescribe antihistamines to reduce allergic response. Other medications that might be used include those to treat fungal infections or bacterial infections.
Sometimes polyps are very large and require surgical removal. There are several ways to remove polyps, and most methods are outpatient procedures. However, if underlying cause is not addressed, benefits of surgery may be short-lived and new polyps may simply develop. When doctors propose surgery they usually also have a plan in place for attempting to prevent polyps in the future.
Sinus polyps most often occur in adults. There is particular concern when they occur in very young children, as this may indicate cystic fibrosis. Symptoms of sinus polyps in young children shouldn’t be ignored. Should they be detected, doctors can perform a fairly simple test to look for cystic fibrosis. Early diagnosis of CF is of extraordinary benefit, since it gives parents and doctors the opportunity to provide the most beneficial care to children with this challenging disease.