A sinus polyp is an abnormal growth in the paranasal sinuses, usually emerging at the base of the nasal cavity. It is essentially a mass of swollen, irritated tissue protruding from the mucous membrane. Doctors are unsure what triggers the development of polyps, but they have been associated with chronic sinusitis, asthma, and severe nasal allergies. A small, isolated sinus polyp is unlikely to cause noticeable physical symptoms, though a large growth or a cluster of smaller polyps can cause significant congestion, rhinitis, and airway obstruction. Most polyps can be effectively treated with medications or minimally invasive surgery.
The most common symptoms of a sinus polyp are nasal congestion, runny noses, and a decreased sense of smell. Some people experience frequent dull headaches and tenderness under the eye or in the cheeks. When a sinus polyp grows large enough, it can make breathing through the nose difficult and cause snoring or possibly sleep apnea at night. Untreated polyps can lead to chronic cold-like symptoms that can become severe enough to significantly affect a person's lifestyle.
A primary care physician may be able to detect a sinus polyp if it is located very close to the nasal cavity, though in most cases a patient needs to see a specialist called an otolaryngologist to receive a thorough screening. The specialist may take computerized tomography scans of the head and insert an endoscope through the nose to identify the size and location of polyps. He or she may also collect a mucus sample and a tiny bit of tissue from the polyp for careful laboratory inspection. Lab tests that do not suggest cancer allow the doctor to make a definitive diagnosis.
Treatment for sinus polyps depends on the size of the growths and the suspected underlying cause. In most cases, tissue swelling and inflammation can be relieved with oral or topical corticosteroids. A patient who experiences severe symptoms may need to take additional prescription drugs to control congestion and rhinitis. Allergy sufferers are usually given antihistamines or scheduled for regular allergy shots.
Surgery may be necessary if medications are ineffective or if a polyp obstructs breathing. A surgeon is usually able to remove polyps that are close to the nasal openings by manipulating a scalpel and suction device through a nostril. A deeper polyp requires endoscopic surgical procedure, during which a surgeon uses a tiny camera and precision cutting or cauterizing tools to excise inflamed tissue. Following surgery, a patient is generally prescribed medications to combat inflammation and infections and scheduled for regular checkups to make sure that polyps do not return.