You think you have a lump inside your nose. Could it be a nasal polyp or something else? If it is a nasal polyp, what might have caused it? Do you need to be concerned or seek treatment?

Below, we go over nasal polyp symptoms and causes, and how to learn if you have them.

What are nasal polyps?

A nasal polyp is a clump of tissue that grows from the lining tissues, or mucosa, of your nose and sinuses. They can be so small that they can’t be seen without a microscope or so large that they reach several inches in length.

What do nasal polyps look like?

Depending on where the nasal polyp is and how big it is, a lot of people can’t see nasal polyps on the inside of their own nose. Small nose polyps look like teardrops. As they get bigger, they look more like grapes growing on a stalk. They are gray, yellow or pink in color.

Are nasal polyps dangerous?

Nasal polyps are typically harmless lumps of tissue. They only become a problem if they’re too big for the inside of your nose and block your nasal passages. If mucus and fluids aren’t able to drain, they can build up, cause congestion or become infected.

Can nasal polyps be cancerous?

Nasal polyps aren’t cancerous, but there can be cancerous growths in your nose that look similar to nasal polyps. So, if your doctor discovers a growth inside your nose, they may send samples of the tissue to a lab for testing.

Nasal polyp symptoms

It can be hard to tell you have nasal polyps. That’s because nasal polyps typically have no feeling in them and, as we mentioned earlier, you may not be able to see one inside your nose.

You may be able to feel a nasal polyp with your finger if it’s close to your nostril, but it’s generally not a good idea to put your finger up your nose. (If you must, make sure you wash your hands before and after.) It’s also possible to have nasal polyps without symptoms – it all depends on the size and location of the growths.

Typically, as nasal polyps grow, sinus-related symptoms can become more common. Some of those symptoms of nasal polyps include:

  • Persistent nasal congestion
  • Drainage that goes down the back of your throat, which may make you feel like you have to constantly clear your throat
  • Changes to sense of smell and taste
  • Pressure or pain in your forehead and face (or headaches)
  • Breathing through your mouth
  • Snoring
  • Frequent nosebleeds

When polyps get to a certain size, they may start to block nasal passages and sinuses. This can lead to additional symptoms like:

  • Sleep apnea or trouble sleeping
  • Repeated sinus infections
  • More frequent asthma attacks or trouble breathing for people who don’t have asthma

How to tell the difference between nasal polyps and other growths in your nose

If you have growths inside your nose, they may not be nasal polyps. Here are a few ways to tell:

Nasal polyps don’t usually fall out

If you notice gray chunks or lumps on the tissue after blowing your nose, it’s probably not a nasal polyp. A big booger is a likely cause. But if you also have drainage at the back of your throat that tastes bad, it’s possible you have a fungal sinus infection and you should head to the doctor right away.

Nasal polyps don’t pop or ooze

If something pops inside your nose, it’s likely a pimple (yes, you can get those inside your nose, too). Staph infections can also cause bumps or boils that start to ooze. Staph infections can get serious quickly, so seek immediate medical care if you’re having vision problems, dizziness, a rash or confusion.

Nasal polyps usually don’t form near the nostril

If you have a bump near your nostrils, it’s probably not a nasal polyp. Instead, it’s more likely to be a pimple or ingrown hair that should go away on its own. If you have a collection of red and white bumps by your nostril opening, a staph infection is a possible cause, so it’s a good idea to see a doctor as soon as you can.

Nasal polyps are painless

If the growth itself hurts, it’s not a nasal polyp. More likely it’s a pimple, ingrown hair or an infected bump.

However, it’s possible to have pain with polyps since they can put pressure on your sinuses and lead to conditions with bothersome symptoms.

What causes nasal polyps?

The short answer is inflammation.

Polyps grow when there’s irritation in the mucosa that lines your nasal passages. Some conditions – like sinus infections, allergies or asthma – can cause your nasal mucosa to become swollen and inflamed. If your mucosa remains irritated for a long time, it may form a polyp.

Risk factors for nasal polyps

Anyone and people of all ages can get nasal polyps, but they are more common in adults. You’re also more likely to get nasal polyps if you have:

  • Chronic or recurrent sinus infections – Your risk of polyps increases if you have infections that don’t go away or keep coming back.
  • Seasonal allergies or asthma – If you have these conditions your nasal passages may often be inflamed, creating the perfect environment for polyps to grow.
  • Low levels of vitamin D – Having low vitamin D levels can lead to ongoing inflammation and make polyps grow more quickly.
  • Cystic fibrosis – This is because cystic fibrosis causes thicker and stickier mucus that can block your nasal passages, preventing drainage.
  • Churg-Strauss syndrome – If you have this condition, your blood vessels, including those in your nose, may be inflamed.
  • Sensitivity to aspirin or other over-the-counter pain relievers – If you’re allergic, you can have a harmful reaction that affects your breathing, sinuses and skin.
  • Family history – You may be more likely to get nasal polyps if you’ve inherited genes that change the way your mucosa reacts to inflammation.

How are nasal polyps diagnosed?

To diagnose nasal polyps, your doctor will ask you some questions and do a physical exam. Depending on what the doctor finds, they may do more testing. Here’s what you might expect.

  • Physical exam – If you have nasal polyps that aren’t very deep in your sinuses, your doctor may be able to see them by looking in your nose with a lighted instrument, like an otoscope, during an office visit.
  • Nasal endoscopy – If your doctor thinks you have polyps that can’t be seen with an otoscope, they may perform a nasal endoscopy. This procedure uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera and light that allows the doctor to see deep into your nasal passages.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan – A CT scan is a series of X-ray images taken from different angles. These images can show the size and location of polyps in your nasal passages, and amount of swelling and inflammation you have in your nose.

Diagnosing the possible cause of nasal polyps

If you have nasal polyps, your doctors may recommend tests to help uncover why you have them.

  • Allergy tests – Skin tests and blood tests can help identify if allergies are causing your ongoing nasal inflammation.
  • Test for cystic fibrosis – If your child has nasal polyps, your doctor may recommend a sweat test to check for cystic fibrosis. During this noninvasive test, mild electrical stimulation is applied to the skin encouraging the sweat glands to produce sweat. The sweat is collected and evaluated to see if it’s saltier than the sweat of most people.
  • Vitamin D test – Your doctor may also do a blood test to see if you have low levels of vitamin D.
  • Polyp biopsy – To rule out cancer, your doctor may remove the polyp or take a sample to send in for testing.

Can nasal polyps go away on their own?

Not usually. But the good news is that there are effective treatments for nasal polyps to help them shrink or go away completely.

What happens if you leave nasal polyps untreated?

Nasal polyps only need treatment if they are causing problems. So small nasal polyps usually don’t need treatment.

But it can be important to treat large nasal polyps or clusters of nasal polyps that are blocking your nasal passages. Left untreated, these growths can lead to:

  • Sinus infections – As we touched on earlier, nasal polyps can make it easier for bacteria or fungi to collect in your nasal passages, causing recurring sinus infections or infections that don’t go away. You may have a sinus infection if you have a fever, facial pain or discharge that’s yellow or green. If you have any of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor right away.
  • Chronic sinusitis – This condition is caused by inflammation or infection in your nasal passages. Chronic sinusitis can make you feel like you have a cold that won’t go away.
  • Sleep apnea – When nasal polyps block your nasal passages, it becomes harder to breathe while you’re sleeping.

We can help with your nose and sinus problems

If you’re experiencing nasal symptoms – such as congestion that won’t go away, facial pain or changes in your sense of smell and taste – it’s important to talk to a doctor.

Making an appointment with your primary care doctor can be a good first step since they’re experienced in diagnosing and treating hundreds of conditions. They can also refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor for more testing or advanced care. But if you want to skip the primary care appointment and schedule directly with an ENT doctor, that works, too – you don’t need a referral. However, we recommend checking with your insurance company about your coverage for specialty care.