At first, Kendra Jackson thought her runny nose was because of a bad cold. But her cold stopped, but her sneezing, coughing, and runny nose did not. The doctors she saw suggested it was seasonal allergies. But, as it turned out, her runny nose was a brain fluid leak!
“When it didn't go away, I kept going back and forth to the doctors, and they prescribed every kind of medicine you can think of, and my nose just kept on running,” the 52-year-old from Nebraska, U.S., told CNN.
Speaking with news outlet KETV, Kendra likened her runny nose to a “waterfall” that would even run to the back of her throat. It was so bad that she lost sleep at night, and she had to bring a box of tissues with her all the time. When she fell asleep upright in a chair, the front of her shirt would be wet when she woke up. Migraine headaches accompanied her runny nose as well.
Kendra finally sought help from physicians at Nebraska Medicine where was finally diagnosed with a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak — the discharge from her nose was brain fluid caused by a small hole in her skull.
A physician assistant “astutely recognized right away that this was something different than a runny nose and was consistent with a CSF leak. So we had her collect her fluids and sent it off for evaluation,” Dr. Christie Barnes, a rhinologist at Nebraska Medicine and a lead surgeon on the case, told CNN.
Kendra was in a car accident a few years ago, and she hit her head on the car’s dashboard. The Nebraska Medicine doctors suspected it caused the hole in her skull that slowly increased in size over time.
Cerebrospinal fluid is a clear, watery substance that's found around the surface of the brain and the spinal cord, according to John Hopkins Medicine. It leaks out when there's a hole in the skull bone, and the fluid drains through the nose or ear, according to Cleveland Clinic. In Kendra's case, this hole had been located in the thin bone that separates her cranial and nasal cavities.
“Other symptoms can include headache, vision changes, and hearing loss,” says Cleveland Clinic. “CSF leaks can be separated into two groups. Spontaneous leaks occur without any known cause. Traumatic leaks are most commonly related to a history of head injury, surgery, or tumors.”
Surgery is recommended for CSF leaks, not only to stop the brain-fluid drain but also because the patient is at an increased risk of meningitis, according to John Hopkins.
Kendra underwent surgery to repair the hole in her skull last month. Dr. Barnes explained the procedure: “I used tissue from the inside of her nose to plug the leak. I also borrowed some abdominal fat; it makes a great plugging agent in this location, so with just a tiny bit of fat, I was able to plug the leak.”
CFS leaks are rare, but Kendra wanted others to know about it, telling CNN, “If [you’re] tasting a very salty taste and something's draining in the back of your throat, it's probably something other than allergies. So get to the doctor.”