Nasal Polyps and Cystic Fibrosis

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2019

Between 6 percent and 48 percent of people with cystic fibrosis (CF) get nasal polyps, and 10 percent to 20 percent of those require sinus surgery for polyps and other issues related to nasal drainage. Nasal polyps seem to occur more frequently beginning in the teen years.1-3

What are nasal polyps?

Nasal polyps are small growths inside the nose. They look like translucent bags of tissue and fluid. Polyps are caused by chronic inflammation of the lining of the nose. Nasal polyps can block the nose, so feeling stuffy and congested is a common sign.

Other symptoms include a runny nose, facial pain, loss of sense of smell, and, rarely, nose bleeds. The thick mucus created by cystic fibrosis leads to chronic (constant, long-term) sinus congestion and frequent sinus infections, which doctors believe cause nasal polyps to develop.

How are they diagnosed?

To diagnose nasal polyps, your doctor will use a tool called a nasal endoscope to look inside your nose and sinus passages. A nasal endoscope includes a thin, flexible tube, a tiny camera, and a light. The tube is inserted into the nose and sinus cavity. Your doctor may take a small tissue sample to test.2

How are they treated?

The first steps your doctor will take to treat your nasal polyps will be to recommend saline irrigation and prescribe drugs, such as antibiotics, nasal spray steroids, decongestants, or mucolytics.1-4

Endoscopic sinus surgery is reserved for the most severe cases, but it is not generally a complicated surgery. If surgery is required, patients report that it greatly improves headaches, congestion, and runny nose.

One study found that people with CF had fewer hospital stays in the first six months after sinus surgery.4 Some researchers believe that cystic fibrosis-related nasal polyps are different from nasal polyps caused by other health conditions.5

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