June 14, 2024

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Don’t let nasal polyps steal your scent-sibility

The nose plays a critical role in your daily life, both as a functional and sensory organ. However, it also can be the source of certain health conditions, such as nasal polyps.

“Nasal polyps are soft, noncancerous growths on the nasal passages or sinus linings that can cause discomfort and other complications,” says John Wheeler, M.D., an allergist at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse.

Nasal polyps can affect anyone. As many as 13 million people in the U.S. have nasal polyps, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Nasal polyps often stem from chronic inflammation in the nasal passages, commonly seen in people with chronic sinusitis, asthma, allergies, drug sensitivities or immune disorders.

“Nasal polyps can develop at any age, but they are most prevalent in young and middle-aged adults. While the exact causes of their formation are still being researched, the risk factors are well established,” Dr. Wheeler shares.

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Smaller nasal polyps may go unnoticed, but larger polyps can cause congestion, impaired sense of smell and taste, and recurring sinus infections.

“Some individuals may also develop an intolerance to over-the-counter pain-relieving medications, like ibuprofen and naproxen,” says Dr. Wheeler.

Nasal polyps can block airflow and fluid drainage, leading to worsening asthma, recurring sinus infections and other complications.

“Repeated antibiotic use for treating sinus infections may increase the risk of clostridium difficile, a serious gastrointestinal infection,” warns Dr. Wheeler.

Treatment of nasal polyps typically aims to reduce or eliminate the size of polyps. Medications such as nasal steroids and budesonide rinses are often the first line of treatment. Even after treatment, nasal polyps often come back.

“If medications don’t work, surgery may be necessary, but polyps tend to recur,” explains Dr. Wheeler. “For some patients, biologic medications like dupilumab can be a more targeted approach, especially in treating nasal polyps in those with chronic sinusitis.”

No one knows exactly why some people get nasal polyps. Dr. Wheeler provides these tips to help prevent nasal polyps or recurrence after treatment:

  • Manage allergies and asthma effectively.
  • Avoid irritants such as tobacco smoke, allergens and chemical fumes.
  • Practice good hygiene by washing hands regularly.
  • Use a humidifier to keep nasal passages moist and mucus flowing.
  • Use a saline spray or nasal rinse to clear irritants and allergens.

Symptoms of chronic sinusitis and nasal polyps are like those of many other illnesses, including the common cold. If you experience recurrent sinus infections, trouble breathing through your nose, changes in smell or taste, or have symptoms that last more than 10 days, Dr. Wheeler advises seeking medical advice.

“Your healthcare team can use a nasal endoscope and skin tests to diagnose nasal polyps and determine if allergies are causing inflammation,” he says.