Which clinical history findings are characteristic of nasal polyps?

Updated: Oct 25, 2019
  • Author: John E McClay, MD; Chief Editor: Ravindhra G Elluru, MD, PhD  more...
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The manifestation of nasal polyps depends on the size of the polyp. Small polyps may not produce symptoms and may be identified only during routine examination when they are anterior to the anterior edge of the middle turbinate. Polyps located posterior to the site are not typically seen during routine anterior rhinoscopy examination performed with an otoscope and are missed unless the child is symptomatic. Small polyps in areas where polyps normally arise (ie, the middle meatus) may produce symptoms and block the outflow tract of the sinuses, causing chronic or recurrent acute sinusitis symptoms.

Symptom-producing polyps can cause nasal airway obstruction, postnasal drainage, dull headaches, snoring, and rhinorrhea. Associated hyposmia or anosmia may be a clue that polyps, rather than chronic sinusitis alone, are present. Epistaxis that does not arise from irritation of the anterior nasal septum (ie, Kiesselbach area) usually does not occur with benign multiple polyps and may suggest other, more serious, nasal cavity lesions.

Massive polyposis or a single large polyp (eg, antral-choanal polyp [see the images below] that obstructs the nasal cavities, nasopharynx, or both) can cause obstructive sleep symptoms and chronic mouth breathing.

Rarely, patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) and patients with allergic fungal sinusitis (AFS) have massive polyposes. These can alter the craniofacial structure and cause proptosis, hypertelorism, and diplopia. See the images below.

In a retrospective study, McClay et al reported that 42% of children with AFS presented with craniofacial abnormalities, compared with 10% of adults with AFS. [9] Massive polyposis rarely causes enough extrinsic compression on the optic nerve to decrease visual acuity. Furthermore, because they grow slowly, massive polyposes usually cause no neurologic symptoms, even those that extend into the intracranial cavity.

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