Nasal polyps are growths or masses in the nasal cavity which is not cancerous. It usually arises due to chronic inflammatory process and will continue to increase in size if not treated. It can even cause distortion in the shape of the nose and eventually bulge out through the nostrils in severe cases.
Nasal polyps usually occur in young and middle aged adults. It is uncommon in children. Nasal polyps are often bilateral (both nasal cavities involved). A unilateral polyp is called an antrochoanal polyp which usually arises from the maxillary sinus and affects teens and young adults.
The cause of nasal polyps is open to much debate but it is agreed that an ongoing inflammatory process is the main pathophysiology. There are however certain associated conditions which increase the risk of developing polyps.
These conditions include asthma which is an inflammatory condition of the airways triggered by allergens, chronic rhinosinusitis which is a chronic infection of the sinuses, aspirin sensitivity, allergic fungal sinusitis which is an allergy to airbone fungi, cystic fibrosis especially suspected in children with nasal polyps (rare disease in Malaysia) and other less common syndromes such as Churg Strauss syndrome, Kartagener’s syndrome and Young’s syndrome. Recent understandings have also shown the relevance of family history and certain genetic predisposition to nasal polyps.
The symptoms or nasal polyps are similar to other inflammatory conditions of the nose such as runny nose, post nasal drip and pressure around the face. However when there is persistence in the symptoms especially when associated with unrelenting nasal block/stuffiness, loss of sense of smell or taste, headache, pain around face and teeth and snoring then possibility of nasal polyposis should be considered.
HOW TO DIAGNOSE NASAL POLYPS?
Diagnosis of nasal polyposis can only be confirmed with an endoscopic examination of the nose. A small rigid or flexible scope is inserted into the nose to fully inspect the nasal cavities. It is a simple procedure performed in the ENT clinic. Polyps appear as grapelike structures protruding into the nasal cavities.
Imaging studies are also performed to see the origin of the polyps and extent of the disease. A computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is usually requested. The imaging studies can also reveal possible fungal disease or complications.
Other tests such as allergy test, test for cystic fibrosis or others may be indicated depending on a patient to patient basis.
The treatment of nasal polyps is long term suiting its nature; underlying chronic ongoing inflammatory process. The aims of treatment are to shrink the size of polyps and prevent complications. Most polyps would respond to medical treatment however some would require surgical intervention.
Medical treatment would consist of topical intranasal steroids, oral corticosteroids, antihistamines and antibiotics in various combinations.
Endoscopic sinus surgery is considered when the polyps do not respond to optimal medical treatment. Surgical intervention is also recommended earlier if patients present with complications. Large nasal polyps often may not shrink considerably with medication alone. However patients have to be aware that nasal polyps do recur after surgery. Therefore adequate followup care and ‘maintenance’ medication is necessary to prevent recurrence.