In 2000, Priyanka Chopra Jonas was crowned Miss World. Just a year later, she was left feeling “devastated and hopeless” after a surgery to remove a polyp in her nasal cavity—called a nasal polypectomy—went very wrong.
Now, in her new memoir, Unfinished, the 38-year-old actress is opening up about the experience that drastically changed the way her nose looked.
During the summer of 2001, Chopra Jonas developed a “lingering head cold.” Initially, she just thought it was a “very bad sinus infection.” But then she realized she was having trouble breathing. “This is a problem someone with asthma can’t ignore,” she wrote in her book, via People.
After she went for medical help, a doctor found what was causing Chopra Jonas’ symptoms: a polyp in her nasal cavity.
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What is a nasal polyp?
Polyps are small, usually non-cancerous growths that usually develop on the lining of the nasal passages or sinuses.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “a polyp develops when the mucus membranes in the nose or sinuses become inflamed and swell over a long period of time. When the polyps grow large enough, they can block the nasal passageways and sinuses and lead to sinus infections and breathing problems.” People with conditions that trigger inflammation in the nose—such as asthma (which Chopra Jonas has), chronic sinus infections, or cystic fibrosis—are more prone to nasal polyps.
Nasal polyps are relatively common. Erich P. Voigt, MD, an associate professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery, at NYU Langone, tells Health he sees them in his practice every day. They can make patients “uncomfortable and miserable,” he says.
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How do you get rid of a nasal polyp?
While medications to treat nasal polyps are emerging, surgery is the current and traditional treatment, Dr. Voigt explains. Surgery is an option if the polyp is only in one nostril, which can indicate that the growth is not a polyp at all but possibly a benign or malignant tumor. In this case, surgery would be recommended to biopsy the growth.
Surgical removal of the polyp also becomes necessary when a patient can no longer stand the symptoms. “It’s a quality-of-life decision when the person says, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t smell, I’m sick all the time with chronic sinus infections,’ and then they decide they want surgery,” says Dr. Voigt.
Chopra Jonas decided to have a nasal polypectomy. She thought it “sounded like a pretty routine procedure,” she wrote. According to Dr. Voigt, the surgery is generally very safe but can have complications, such as bleeding, double vision, blindness, or brain fluid leakage through the nose.
Chopra Jonas experienced a different complication. “While shaving off the polyp, the doctor also accidentally shaved the bridge of my nose and the bridge collapsed. When it was time to remove the bandages and the condition of my nose was revealed, Mom and I were horrified. My original nose was gone. My face looked completely different. I wasn’t me anymore,” she wrote.
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“Every time I looked in the mirror, a stranger looked back at me. I didn’t think my sense of self or my self-esteem would ever recover from the blow,” she added, explaining that the changes to her nose affected her acting offers. “As if the physical and emotional pain of the original and subsequent corrective surgeries weren’t enough, this was a terrible blow.”
In the following years, Chopra Jonas underwent multiple reconstructive procedures to “normalize” her nose. She has since gotten “accustomed” to her face. “Now when I look in the mirror, I am no longer surprised; I’ve made peace with this slightly different me,” Chopra Jonas wrote. “This is my face. This is my body. I might be flawed, but I am me.”
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