What Is Nasal Polyps?

  • 1st Revision: Human Maryam Ikram


Nasal polyps might not sound familiar but they can affect 1% of the population and are more common among people assigned male at birth (PAMAB).1 Nasal polyps are painless growths, often the shape of a grape or teardrop, and are found inside the lining of your nasal passage. 

Even though  they are usually harmless, nasal polyps can  induce cold-like symptoms that can impact your breathing and become bothersome if they keep returning . Yet, because nasal polyps are non-cancerous growths, the majority of people can treat them quickly and they shouldn't cause concern.

Causes of nasal polyps

Although the cause of nasal polyps is not fully understood, it is associated with chronic rhinosinusitis, which is an inflammation of the nasal passages and the sinuses that lasts for 12 weeks or longer.2 Research also states that individuals with nasal polyps may have an abnormal immune response and may suffer from allergies, asthma or an infection which causes the polyps to grow bigger. Furthermore, you are more likely to grow nasal polyps if you have certain conditions such as cystic fibrosis, aspirin sensitivity, asthma and hayfever. 3

Signs and symptoms of nasal polyps

Nasal polyps have a pale grey  appearance but overtime this changes to a red, fleshy appearance. You might not have any symptoms if you have small polyps, however if you have larger polyps a sinus infection may  occur and the nasal passageway may  get blocked. Nasal polyps may also feel like you are suffering from a constant cold.4

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing through nose
  • Blocked nose
  • Runny nose
  • Snoring
  • Nose bleeds
  • Loss of smell and taste 
  • Headache if sinus infection occurs
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge 

Management and treatment for nasal polyps

Nasal polyps can be treated by using steroid nose drops and nasal  sprays to help shrink polyps. However, if the nose drops and sprays fail to shrink the nasal polyp then a steroid tablet can be prescribed.4 Tablet-based steroids can effectively reduce symptoms, but they are not readily prescribed since their effects are only short-term,  and they can lead to potential side effects  which may  cause more harm. Corticosteroids can also be administered, however these also  have side effects and are not advised for  long-term use.5  

If the medical treatments fail to shrink the nasal polyps then endoscopic surgery can be offered by  medical professionals to remove the polyps. This is beneficial for those that have larger polyps as it will improve their breathing and  their quality of life. 

Studies have found that after an average of four years, nasal polyps can recur in three out of every four individuals. If they come back frequently, the sinuses can be cleaned out and opened up, which  can  extend the time in which they reoccur. Local medical care with anti-inflammatory sprays or nose drops is also frequently required for management of polyps.6

Diagnosis of nasal polyps

 A GP  should be able to tell if you have nasal polyps by looking inside your nose. The medical professional can also diagnose you by using a nasal endoscope, which is a thin telescope with a camera attached at the end. They may  occasionally take a tiny sample of the growth, known as a biopsy, and send it to the lab for examination. The sinuses can also exhibit signs that point to the presence of nasal polyps during a CT or MRI scan, however it is unlikely that the doctor would use a scan to diagnose nasal polyps.2

Risks factors of nasal polyps

There are no serious risk factors with nasal polyps however a study found that the most common risk factors were nasal blockage, sneezing, nasal secretion and poor smell and taste.7 Acute bacterial sinusitis, which is an infection of the nasal and sinus cavity due to inflammation, is also common risk factor of nasal polyps.5 Nasal polyps may also aggravate asthma symptoms in individuals with asthma and can cause sleep disruptions as larger polyps make it hard to breathe from the nose. 


Some complications of nasal polyps may cause long-term damage. If left untreated for too long, nasal polyps can further grow and cause facial pain and headaches making it difficult to manage daily tasks. Although it is rare, massive polyps, which would be found in cystic fibrosis patients, can cause bulging in one or both eyes as well as facial abnormalities and inflammation in the sinuses

However, severe complications are rare and medical treatment can help relieve symptoms associated with nasal polyps. 


How can I prevent nasal polyps?

  • Even though their exact cause is unknown, there are various ways to prevent nasal polyps from growing or returning back after removal. Using a humidifier can moisten your nasal passages when the air in your surroundings becomes dry, which enhances the flow of mucus in your sinuses, avoiding blockage and inflammation that could result in the recurrence of nasal polyps
  • Avoid breathing in irritants or airborne allergens as they can cause inflammation of the nasal and sinus cavity
  • Using saline rinses and nasal sprays can help prevent nasal polyps as they can prevent inflammation and remove allergens and irritants

How common is nasal polyps?

  • Nasal polyps are fairly common as they affect 1% of the UK population and around 4% of the US population. They are also more common in PAMAB  than in people assigned female at birth (PAFAB)

When should I see a doctor?

  • You should see a doctor if you are having difficulty breathing and are noticing that your symptoms are worsening. If you notice any changes to your smell and are experiencing any facial pain or headaches then you should also seek medical attention


Nasal polyps are small, harmless growths in the nasal pathway but if left untreated for too long they can grow bigger and symptoms can worsen . Therefore, if you experience any changes to your symptoms then it is important to see a doctor to relieve these symptoms and help manage the nasal polyps. 


  1. Nasal Polyps. [Internet]. Leeds Health Pathway. [cited 2023 April 18]. Available from: http://www.lhp.leedsth.nhs.uk/detail.aspx?id=4 
  2. Nasal Polyps. [Internet]. John Hopkins Medicine. [cited 2023 April 18]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/nasal-polyps 
  3. Causes. [Internet]. Penn Medicine. [cited 2023 April 18]. Available from: https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/nasal-polyps 
  4. Nasal Polyps. [Internet]. NHS. [cited 2023 April 19]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nasal-polyps/ 
  5. Hazell, T. Nasal Polyps. Patient. 2022. [cited 2023 April 19]. Available from: https://patient.info/doctor/nasal-polyps-pro 
  6. What is a Nasal Polyp? [Internet]. ENT Conditions and Procedures. [cited 2023 April 19]. Available from: https://www.entuk.org/patients/conditions/41/nasal_polyps/ 
  7. Bohman A, Oscarsson M, Bende M. Heredity, symptoms and risk factors of nasal polyps. Clin Transl Allergy. 2015;5(Suppl 4):P24. Published 2015 Jun 26. doi:10.1186/2045-7022-5-S4-P24
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Sabiya Ali

BSc Pharmacy Science and Health University of the West of Scotland

Hi, my name is Sabiya and I am currently a recent graduate. I am passionate about science and particularly interested in women's health. I enjoy researching and writing articles which is why I decided to work for Klarity's public health library.

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