Runny nose? Stuffed up? There might be more to your sniffles than just a head cold.

Nasal polyps can turn out to be no picnic. They’re grape-like growths that form in the lining of your nasal passage and sinuses, often near the eyes, nose and cheekbones. They’re usually soft and benign — but you won’t necessarily realize they are growing.

Nasal polyps are the result of a chronic sinus inflammation, also known as chronic rhinosinusitis, which can be caused by asthma, allergies, infections, sensitivity to drugs or even immune disorders. You have a higher risk of developing nasal polyps if you have chronic rhinosinusitis for longer than 12 weeks. Experts are still unsure what causes chronic rhinosinusitis, but there are risk factors — such as asthma, cystic fibrosis and certain immune system responses — that are associated with it.

“If the polyps are small and do not obstruct the nasal cavity, you may not have many symptoms. However, if they grow larger or are in certain areas of the nose, they can lead to nasal congestion, loss of sense of smell, post nasal drip and facial pressure,” said Elisabeth D. Ference, MD, who is an assistant professor of clinical otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and an otolaryngologist at Keck Medicine of USC. “In extreme cases, polyps can grow so large they can be seen when just looking in the nose. If polyps go untreated for a long period of time, the constant pressure can lead to widening of the nose and the space between the eyes.”

Call for an Appointment
(800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273)

If your symptoms persist for 10 days, schedule an appointment with your doctor to rule out a cold or other potential causes. You can then address any complications, such as sleep apnea and infections. You can also learn about your treatment options, which range from medications to surgery.

Now here’s the downside: Nasal polyps tend to recur, even after you address them.

Because there’s no permanent cure, it’s better to take any steps you can to minimize your risk of developing them in the first place. Work with your doctor to manage your allergies and asthma, avoid irritation from substances like tobacco smoke and dust, use a humidifier and rinse your nasal passages with either a nasal rinse or neti pot. With any luck, your next sniffle will just be the result of a common cold.

By Deanna Pai

If you’re in Southern California and are concerned about nasal polyps, make an appointment with one of our otolaryngologists at Keck Medicine of USC. To schedule an appointment, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit ent.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.