Introduction - Can nasal polyps cause sinus infections?
Sinus infection has a tendency to trigger facial pain, breathing trouble or decreased sense of smell. The repeated episodes of sinus infection can disrupt one’s quality of life. To get effective treatment, it is crucial to figure out the cause of the sinus infection.
One lesser known cause of sinus infection is nasal polyps. They are tiny grape-like growths found on the lining of nasal passages or sinuses. Nasal polyps are the result of the swelling of the nasal and sinus passages.
Based on the type of sinusitis one is suffering from, it can be determined whether the nasal polyps are the cause of repeated sinus infection or not.
This article answers the question, ‘Can nasal polyps cause sinus infections?’.
What are nasal polyps?
Nasal polyps can be described as fragile, painless and non cancerous growths. They generally occur from frequent inflammation and are associated with asthma, recurring infection, allergies, drug sensitivity or certain immune disorders.
Nasal polyps are mostly soft and lack any kind of sensation. Hence, when they are small in size, one may not be troubled by their presence. But numerous growths or a larger polyp give rise to blockage of one’s nasal passages, a lost sense of smell and repeated infection.
Small growth of polyps may not cause any symptoms. But as they grow, they may give rise to:
- Loss of smell or taste
- Nasal congestion
- Nasal drainage
- Bleeding nose
- Postnasal drip
- Sinus pressure
- Pain in the sinuses, face or upper teeth
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes
Larger growth of polyps can block the nasal passages and sinuses, leading to:
- Recurrent asthma attacks
- Continuous sinus infection
- Sleep apnea or other sleeping disorders
- Breathing troubles
Anybody can get affected by nasal polyps. But it is most prevalent in adults. Nasal polyps normally appear on both sides of the nostrils. A growth on only one side of a nasal chamber may be something else, like a cancerous tumor.
The most common types of nasal polyps seen in nose are:
- Ethmoidal polyps
- Antrochoanal polyp
- Nose tumors
What are sinus infections?
Sinus infections also known as sinusitis are inflammation of the tissue padding the sinuses. The sinuses are four paired hollow cavities within the bones between the eyes, behind cheekbones and in the forehead. They are joined by a narrow channel. The sinuses produce thin mucus that drains out of the passages of the nose and keeps it moist. This mucus drainage helps in protecting the nose against dust, allergens and pollutants.
Sinus infections take place when the sinuses which are normally filled with air get filled with fluid. When that happens, germs can grow and trigger an infection. These infections are also termed as rhinosinusitis, where ‘rhino’ means ‘nose’.
Sinus infections are usually caused by a virus. But in certain cases, a bacteria or fungus may cause it.
The common symptoms of sinus infections can be listed as:
- Pain in forehead
- Pain on either side of nose
- Pain in upper jaws and teeth
- Pain between eyes
- Tenderness in the face
- Nasal discharge
- Post nasal drip
- Pain in ears
- Nasal congestion
- Sinus headache
- Throat irritation and cough
- Sore throat
- Hoarse voice
- Bad breath (halitosis)
How nasal polyps cause sinus infections?
To determine the cause of repeated sinus infection, it is essential to understand which of the two primary sinusitis (acute or chronic) one has.
Acute sinus infection tends to get better within one or two weeks. It is likely to be caused by a bacteria or virus. One affected by acute bacterial sinus infection, observes improvement of his/her symptoms after a week. This type of sinus infection recovers on its own.
But when the sinus infection lasts for 12 weeks or more, it is termed as chronic sinusitis. In these cases, nasal polyps may be the underlying cause. Unlike a sinus infection caused by bacteria or virus, they don’t go away without treatment.
Methods of diagnosis
An ENT specialist draws diagnosis for nasal polyps using the following methods:
- General physical examination
- Examination of the nose
- Nasal endoscopy
- Imaging studies like CT scan
- Allergy tests
- Test for cystic fibrosis
- Blood test
- MRI (rarely)
Treatment of sinus infections resulting from nasal polyps and surgery for nasal polyps
Sinus infections resulting from nasal polyps are treated by an ENT specialist using the following below mentioned methods:
Medications – In case of small growths of polyps, an ENT specialist may prescribe medications like:
- Nasal corticosteroids
- Oral and injectable corticosteroids
- Medications to treat nasal polyps and chronic sinusitis
- Oral and nasal antihistamines
- Other medications
Surgery – Medications often shrink or eradicate nasal polyps. But in some instances, a surgical intervention is needed to remove them. Nasal polypectomy is one such surgical procedure used by ENT specialists to remove polyps.
Nasal polypectomy is a minimally invasive endoscopic procedure. It is conducted only when medications fail to shrink or eliminate nasal polyps. This surgery helps in removing polyps and correcting problems with one’s sinuses that make him/her disposed to inflammation.
In this surgery, an ENT specialist inserts a small tube with a lighted magnifying lens or tiny camera (endoscope) into one’s nostrils and guides it into the sinus cavities. The ENT specialist uses tiny instruments to remove polyps and other substances that tend to block the flow of fluids from the sinuses.
The ENT specialist may also expand the openings leading from one’s sinuses to one’s nasal passages. This surgery is generally performed as an inpatient procedure.
Normally the surgery lasts for a few hours and can prevent rare but critical problems that can arise from nasal polyps like complex sinusitis.
Consult Dr G V K Chaitanya Rao – Best ENT Doctor in Hyderabad.
Nasal polyps can be prevented using the following steps:
- Supervise allergies and asthma
- Avoid nasal irritants
- Practice good hygiene
- Use a humidifier
- Use a nasal rinse
- Use a corticosteroid spray
- Use a nasal spray
Nasal polyps are benign or noncancerous. They have no ability to change into cancer.
Nasal polyps don’t always lead to sinus infection. It depends on the type of sinusitis one is suffering from. Nasal polyps are deemed as a cause of chronic sinusitis. Although, sometimes one can suffer from chronic sinusitis without nasal polyps.
No, nasal polyps don’t shrink on their own. If left untreated, nasal polyps can cause complications as they block airflow and fluid drainage.
There is no proof yet that nasal polyps are life threatening. However, they can create discomfort by interfering with the natural drainage and ventilation of the sinuses.
Conclusion - Can nasal polyps cause sinus infections?
Nasal polyps may be noncancerous, but if left untreated, it can cause potential complications like obstructive sleep apnea, asthma flare-ups and sinus infections. Consult an ENT specialist if:
- One is facing severe breathing difficulties
- One’s symptoms worsen abruptly
- One is experiencing double vision, reduced vision or limited ability to move eyes
- One is suffering from serious swelling around the eyes
- One is anguished with intense headache accompanied by high fever or inability to tip the head forward
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