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Allergies Health Center

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Nasal Polyps

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Risk Factors for Nasal Polyps

Nasal polyps can affect people of any age, but they're most common in adults over age 40, and are twice as likely to affect men as women. They rarely affect children under age 10. When young children develop nasal polyps, cystic fibrosis should be considered as a possible diagnosis.

Although nasal polyps are associated with allergic rhinitis, asthma, aspirin allergy, sinus infections, acute and chronic infections, a foreign body in the nose, and cystic fibrosis, many times the cause is unknown. Sometimes, the formation of nasal polyps precedes the development of asthma or sinusitis.

Some researchers theorize that symptoms of allergies -- including runny nose, sneezing, and itching -- predispose people to develop nasal polyps. But the allergy connection is controversial. Some research suggests that nasal polyps may develop in nearly one-third of patients with asthma but only in about 2% of patients who have seasonal allergies with no diagnosis of asthma. Other researchers theorize that sinus infections -- which cause tissue swelling and diminished drainage -- lead to the formation of nasal polyps.

Medical Treatments for Nasal Polyps

If you suspect that you have nasal polyps, your doctor can usually diagnose them with a nasal endoscope, a tool with a magnifying lens or camera that provides a detailed view of your nose and sinuses. In some cases, your doctor may order additional tests or perform a biopsy of the polyp to ensure that it's not cancerous.

The first-line treatment for nasal polyps is a nasal corticosteroid spray. In many cases, such treatment can shrink or even eliminate nasal polyps. In other cases, a one-week tapered course of oral corticosteroids such as prednisone may be necessary.

Unfortunately, nasal polyps tend to recur if the underlying irritation, allergy, or infection isn't adequately controlled. So, it may be necessary to continue using a corticosteroid spray to prevent the nasal polyps from returning and undergo periodic medical examinations with a nasal endoscope.

In general, medications such as antihistamines and decongestants are of minimal value in managing nasal polyps. In some cases, however, your doctor may order antihistamines to help control allergies, or a course of antibiotics to control an underlying infection before initiating the use of corticosteroid therapy.

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