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Can nasal polyps affect your eyes?

Nasal polyps are soft, painless growths that develop in the lining of the sinuses and nasal passages. They typically occur in both nostrils and can block normal airflow, causing breathing problems. Nasal polyps often result from chronic inflammation due to conditions like asthma, recurring infection, allergies, or certain immune disorders. While nasal polyps primarily impact the nasal cavity, some research shows they can potentially affect the eyes as well.

How are the nasal cavity and eyes connected?

The nasal cavity and eyes share some anatomical connections that allow issues in one area to impact the other. Here are a few key ways they are linked:

  • The nasal cavity and eyes both drain into the nasolacrimal duct. This is the passage that connects the lacrimal sac of the eye to the nose. It drains away tears and mucus.
  • The veins around the nose and eyes are connected via the ophthalmic veins. Blood circulates between these areas.
  • Some sinuses around the nasal cavity are close to the eyes and optic nerves, including the ethmoid sinuses and sphenoid sinus.
  • The nasociliary nerve runs from the nasal cavity to the eye.

Due to these connections, inflammation and obstruction in the nasal cavity can potentially spread to surrounding structures like the eyes. This is one way nasal polyps may end up impacting eye health and function.

Can nasal polyps obstruct tear drainage?

One of the main ways nasal polyps could affect the eyes is by blocking tear drainage through the nasolacrimal duct. This duct drains tears from the surface of the eye into the nose. If nasal polyps obstruct this duct, it can lead to excessive tear buildup in the eyes and increased eye irritation.

A study in The Laryngoscope journal explored this issue. Researchers looked at 45 patients undergoing endoscopic sinus surgery for chronic rhinosinusitis, some of whom had nasal polyps. Of these patients, about 51% were found to have obstruction of their nasolacrimal duct caused by inflammation, polyps, or other sinus issues. After surgery opened their sinus drainage paths, 76% of patients had patent nasolacrimal ducts, or open unblocked tear drainage.

This suggests that nasal polyps and related rhinosinusitis can frequently impede proper tear drainage, leading to epiphora (excessive watering of the eyes). Removing polyps and inflamed tissue may help open tear drainage and relieve eye irritation in these cases.

Can nasal polyps cause eye infections?

Research shows that nasal polyps may also raise the risk of eye infections in some cases. This is likely due to bacteria and other pathogens that become trapped in the sinuses behind nasal polyps. These infections can occasionally spread to the eyes via the interconnected nasal and ocular anatomy.

One study in the Acta Ophthalmologica journal looked at this issue. The study compared eye and nasal cultures in patients with and without nasal polyps. Patients with nasal polyps were significantly more likely to have bacteria cultured from their eyes (especially Staphylococcus aureus bacteria). The researchers concluded that nasal polyps can increase the risk of eye infections by harboring pathogens that colonize the eyes.

Other case studies have found patients with nasal polyps who developed rare eye infections, like orbital cellulitis. Treating the underlying nasal polyps and sinus disease helped resolve the orbital infections in these instances.

Can nasal polyps cause vision changes?

In rarer cases, nasal polyps may grow large enough to press on structures near the eyes. This includes the optic nerves and muscles controlling eye movement. Compression or inflammation of these areas could potentially lead to vision changes like:

  • Blurry vision
  • Double vision
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Pain or pressure behind the eyes

One case study in the BMC Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders journal highlighted this issue. It described a 45-year old man with longstanding nasal polyps who developed proptosis (bulging eyes), diplopia (double vision), and vision loss. Imaging revealed a large invasive polyp eroding into the sphenoid sinus and compressing the optic nerve. Surgical removal of the polyp resolved his vision abnormalities.

While rare, this demonstrates the possibility of large nasal polyps impinging on eye structures and causing vision changes. However, mild blurriness or dry eye symptoms are more likely to occur from nasolacrimal duct obstruction.

Can allergies cause both nasal polyps and eye issues?

Seasonal or perennial allergies are a common cause of both nasal polyps and allergic eye conditions. Allergies trigger inflammation throughout the respiratory mucosa, including in the nasal cavity and eyes. This inflammation can lead to polyp formation in the nose and allergic symptoms like itchy, watery eyes.

A study in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that nearly 80% of patients with nasal polyps had positive allergy skin tests. Dust mites, pollens, pet dander, and mold were among the most common allergy triggers. Many of these patients also had allergic rhinitis and asthma.

Allergy-driven inflammation is a key mechanism connecting nasal polyps and ocular changes. Treating the underlying allergies with approaches like allergen avoidance, antihistamines, and nasal steroids may improve inflammation in both areas.

Can medications for nasal polyps affect the eyes?

Certain medications used to treat nasal polyps, like nasal corticosteroid sprays, can occasionally cause local side effects like eye dryness, irritation, and changes in vision. However, these effects are generally mild and reversible by discontinuing the medication or reducing the dosage.

For example, fluticasone nasal sprays (like Flonase) may rarely cause visual disturbances, cataracts, or increased eye pressure according to drug labels. But incidence is low, and most patients tolerate nasal steroids without significant eye-related side effects.

Oral steroids like prednisone are also used short-term for some cases of severe nasal polyposis. These carry a higher risk of cataracts, glaucoma, and other eye disorders with long-term use. However, side effects are usually preventable with close monitoring and limiting duration of use.


In summary, there are several ways in which nasal polyps may negatively impact the eyes:

  • Obstruction of tear drainage through the nasolacrimal duct can cause excessive eye watering.
  • Bacteria and infections harbored in nasal polyps can spread to the eyes, causing conditions like orbital cellulitis.
  • Extensive nasal polyps eroding into the sinuses rarely may impinge on structures like the optic nerve.
  • Allergies commonly underlie both nasal polyps and allergic eye issues like itchy, irritated eyes.
  • Medications like nasal steroids have a low risk of minor eye side effects.

However, in most cases nasal polyps do not directly affect the eyes or vision unless they become very large. Mild dry eye or irritation may occur from obstructed tear drainage. Overall, the main way to prevent nasal polyps from impacting the eyes is to manage the underlying inflammation and polyp growth through methods like steroid nasal sprays, sinus surgeries, and allergy treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you see nasal polyps without a scope?

No, nasal polyps are generally not visible without using a lighted instrument like an endoscope or nasal speculum. They form deep within the nasal passages and sinuses. Looking inside the nostrils usually does not reveal them.

What problems do nasal polyps cause?

Common symptoms caused by nasal polyps include:

  • Nasal congestion/obstruction
  • Runny nose
  • Postnasal drip
  • Loss of smell
  • Headache
  • Facial pain/pressure
  • Snoring
  • Breathing difficulties

Can nasal polyps turn into cancer?

No, simple inflammatory nasal polyps do not become cancerous. However, sometimes malignant growths inside the nose or sinuses (like inverted papilloma or squamous cell carcinoma) may resemble benign polyps. Any suspected polyp that bleeds, rapidly enlarges, or fails to shrink with treatment warrants a biopsy to check for cancerous changes.

What medications treat nasal polyps?

Common medical treatments for nasal polyps include:

  • Nasal corticosteroid sprays
  • Oral corticosteroids
  • Leukotriene modifiers
  • Allergy medications
  • Antibiotics

Nasal steroid sprays are typically the first-line medication approach. Oral steroids may be used short-term for severe polyposis. Surgery is also done for substantial polyps that obstruct nasal breathing.

Can nasal polyps go away permanently?

No, there is currently no permanent cure for nasal polyps. They tend to recur after being removed or treated. However, medications and surgery can help shrink polyps and keep them minimized for long periods. Identifying and controlling underlying triggers like allergies or infections also helps limit polyp recurrence.

Summary Table

Ways Nasal Polyps May Affect the Eyes Mechanism Symptoms
Obstructed tear drainage Polyps/inflammation block nasolacrimal duct Excessive eye watering, irritation
Spread of infection to eyes Bacteria in nasal polyps colonize eyes Eye infections like orbital cellulitis
Compression of visual pathways Large polyps erode into sinuses near eyes Vision changes like loss, double vision
Allergy-driven inflammation Allergies cause inflammation in nose and eyes Itchy, irritated, watery eyes
Medication side effects Topical nasal steroids (rarely) Dry eyes, vision changes

The Bottom Line

In summary, nasal polyps typically do not directly impair vision or eye health unless they become very large. The most common ocular impact is mild issues like eye irritation and dryness resulting from obstructed tear drainage.

Controlling the growth of polyps through nasal steroid sprays, surgery, and treatment of underlying inflammation can help prevent recurrence and obstruction that may secondarily affect the eyes. Overall, vision changes are rare with properly managed nasal polyps.

However, any sudden onset of concerning eye symptoms like vision loss, eye pain, or swelling should prompt rapid evaluation for a more serious process like infection or compression of visual pathways.