MAY 22, 2018 06:52 AM PDT

A Runny Nose That Was More Than a Cold

Spring is entirely upon us, and that means some can suffer from allergies. A runny nose is a common symptom, and one Nebraska woman thought the pollen and change of seasons were responsible for a runny nose that would not quit.

She went to the doctor, several times, but despite prescriptions, exams and advice, nothing was getting better. After undergoing a CT scan, doctors were able to solve the problem. It wasn't a respiratory infection, an allergy or anything else benign. It was cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) that was leaking from around her brain, through a small hole in her skull. How does this happen?

First, it's important to understand the mechanics of where the fluid is and how it moves between the brain and the rest of the body. CSF surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It's encased in a membrane called the dura that acts as a cushion to delicate brain tissue. If this membrane is damaged in any way, a leak can occur. In the spinal cord, it's not uncommon to have a leak of CSF after a lumbar puncture test. In the brain, CSF leaks can happen after injury, illness or swelling that puts pressure on the skull. It's not possible to run out of CSF; the brain makes more of it every day. It circulates out of the skull, carrying cellular waste with it. A leak of CSF is a rare occurrence, and it's a medical emergency that must be dealt with surgically. Data from the CSF Leak Association shows that about 5 out of 100,000 people worldwide each year will experience a leak of cerebral spinal fluid.

Kendra Jackson, from Omaha Nebraska, was beyond surprised when doctors told her their diagnosis. While she knew the problem was chronic since nothing was working, she didn't expect to need brain surgery from what she, and some of her doctors, thought was a minor condition. Dr. Christie Barnes, a rhinologist at Nebraska Medicine was Jackson's lead surgeon. She described Jackson's symptoms as severe, telling CNN, "She would wake up in the morning after sleeping upright in a chair, and the whole front of her shirt was wet with fluid. It was a lot of fluid." Doctors estimated that Jackson was losing half a liter of fluid every day.

The leak came from a hole in the cribriform plate, a small bony area at the base of the brain, behind the nasal cavity. This bone can thin over time from aging or illness; however, the doctors think that Jackson's leak came about after a car accident she had five years ago. Her injuries included head trauma since she was rear-ended by another car and her head collided with the dashboard of her car. She has suffered from migraines since, but the hole in the cribriform plate is consistent with trauma. Jackson is doing well after surgery, which was about a month ago. She hopes that her story will make more people aware of the condition, check out the video to see how it went in the OR.

Sources: CNN, CSF Leak Association,

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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