Nasal polyps can seriously affect the quality of your day-to-day life. Sufferers of sinus conditions experience a wide variety of problems with breathing (both during the day and while asleep—sleep apnea can seriously damage health and everyday functioning), sinus infections, and more., Many patients opt for surgery so that they can manage symptoms and breathe freely. But surgery is a serious decision to make, so the question becomes, when might a doctor recommend you have your nasal polyps removed?
What comes first?
First off, let’s remind ourselves what nasal polyps are. Nasal polyps are small growths inside the nose that hang from the lining of the nostrils. They are pain-free and noncancerous. They may not even cause any problems if they’re small. If they’re bigger, though, they may block the airway and cause a variety of symptoms. Among other symptoms and complications, these can include:
- post-nasal drip (mucus dripping from the back of your sinuses)
- sleep apnea (trouble breathing during sleep)
- “tightness” in the sinus region
Before turning to surgery, your doctor will probably try medicines (nose drops, nasal spray, or tablets) to try and reduce the size of the polyps and ease the symptoms they cause. Often, these work well enough that surgery is unnecessary.
What happens if that doesn’t work?
If the polyps are big they cause symptoms that negatively affect your life. When other treatments like nasal sprays don’t work, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove them. If surgery is recommended by an ENT doctor, the condition has become serious enough that you may consider having them removed.
Once you and your doctor have made the decision to have surgery, it’s time to figure out when to have your nasal polyps removed. You’ll work with your doctor to schedule surgery in advance, leaving plenty of time for recovery so that the procedure doesn’t interrupt any important upcoming events.
This timing should be given careful consideration. You may not want to put off a procedure that can improve your health and quality of life, but you will understandably want to fit it in around your life, as well. In some instances, patients can go home the day of surgery, but it is wise to plan to stay overnight in the hospital., Furthermore, you should make sure that you have a couple of weeks to rest so that your sinuses heal correctly following surgery.
Many sinusitis sufferers have heard about or experienced sinus surgeries in the past which involved the painful “packing” of gauze in the nasal passageways and a long recovery period. Today, gauze packing is rarely used. New advances make the procedure much easier, more comfortable and more effective, with quicker recovery times. You and your doctor will determine the best time to schedule the removal appointment.
Following the operation, the sinus cavity will need to be treated in order to heal properly. There are a few different ways to do this. As surgical technology has advanced, the materials used to pack the sinus cavity for healing have also advanced. Modern packings are made from a wide variety of materials, but they are designed to stop bleeding, apply pressure, and encourage healing.
Another option that is being used in some facilities is the PROPEL sinus stent. This device is implanted in the sinus cavity after sinus surgery. It delivers medicine, keeps the sinus open, and dissolves slowly so it doesn’t usually need to be removed. The reduced scarring and lower incidence of returning polyps mean that you’re less likely to have to arrange and book time out for follow-up procedures in the future.
What do I do now?
If you have questions about your sinuses, ask your doctor. Together, you’ll determine what your situation is, figure out the proper course of action, and work toward a solution that will hopefully have you breathing deep and easy for a long time to come.
 Govindaraj S, et al. Endoscopic sinus surgery: evolution and technical innovations. The Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 2010; 124:242-250.