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Polyps, nose Content Supplied by NHS Choices

Nasal polyps are abnormal tissue growths that grow inside the nasal passages and sinuses. 

The sinuses are small spaces on either side of the nose behind the cheekbones, eyes and forehead.

Nasal polyps vary in size and can be yellowish, grey or pink in colour. Each polyp is shaped like a teardrop, and they look like grapes on a stem when they are fully grown. Large nasal polyps can block the nasal passage and cause symptoms such as:

  • a blocked or runny nose
  • a loss of smell and taste

These symptoms of nasal polyps are also associated with many other conditions, including the common cold. However, colds usually clear up within 2 to 14 days, whereas nasal polyps don't go away without treatment. See your GP if you have cold-like symptoms that last for more than two weeks.

If polyps develop in or near the sinuses, they may cause a sinus infection that leads to pain and tenderness in the face.

Nasal polyps are not cancerous and do not increase your risk of developing nasal cancer in the future.

What causes nasal polyps?

The exact cause of nasal polyps is unknown. They appear to be the result of constant inflammation (redness and swelling) that develops inside the lining of the nasal passageways, known as the mucus membrane. It is unclear what triggers the inflammation.

Several factors increase your risk of developing nasal polyps. These include:

  • asthma 
  • allergic rhinitis - a condition where substances, such as dust mites or animal fur, cause cold-like symptoms such as sneezing 
  • cystic fibrosis - a condition where the lungs and digestive system become clogged up with a sticky fluid
  • aspirin intolerance - where you experience allergic-like symptoms, such as itchy skin and persistent coughing, if you take the painkiller aspirin (some people with an aspirin intolerance also have a similar reaction to other painkillers, such as ibuprofen)

Treating nasal polyps

Nasal polyps can be treated with steroid medication (corticosteroids) that help shrink the polyps.

Corticosteroids can be prescribed either as a short course of steroid tablets or in the form of a nasal spray.

Surgery is sometimes recommended for larger polyps that don't respond to medication. Two types of surgery can be used:

  • endoscopic sinus surgery, where the surgeon removes the polyps using either surgical instruments or a laser
  • a polypectomy, which involves removing the polyps using a wire loop or forceps

Nasal polyps are usually easily treated, although it is quite common for them to grow back. This often happens a few months after treatment with medication or about two to three years after surgery. People with other long-term conditions, such as asthma, are more likely to have recurring polyps.

Read more about treating nasal polyps.

Who gets nasal polyps?

It is difficult to estimate exactly how common nasal polyps are because smaller polyps that do not cause any symptoms may go undetected.

However, one study estimated that around 1% of people will have nasal polyps at some point in their life. Also, each year in England, around 5,000-6,000 people are admitted to hospital to treat nasal polyps.

Polyps are four times more common in men than in women and they usually affect adults who are 40 years of age or over. In children, polyps are much rarer, usually only affecting children with cystic fibrosis.