Don’t worry, your runny nose probably doesn’t mean your skull is leaking fluid. Probably.
Photo: annaj (Pixabay)

A Nebraska woman’s constantly runny nose turned out to be lot less innocuous than a typical case of the sniffles. In actuality, her skull had sprung a potentially fatal leak, one that took doctors years to finally spot and thankfully fix.

In 2013, Kendra Jackson had gotten into a car accident, knocking her head hard against the dashboard. Years later, her nose—typically just one nostril at a time—started profusely running and she began regularly coughing and sneezing. Often, she woke up in the morning drenched in the fluid.

“Everywhere I went I always had a box of Puffs, always stuffed in my pocket,” Jackson told ABC affiliate KETV, referring to the popular tissue brand.

The doctors she visited, however, assured her at first that she was likely suffering from congestion, allergies or the common cold. But as her nose continued to run, sometimes up to a half-pint a day, Jackson suspected it had to be something more serious. Eventually, doctors at Nebraska Medicine confirmed that she actually had a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak.

CSF is a colorless liquid that surrounds the brain. Constantly produced, it cushions the brain from injury, transports waste produced by brain cells away into the bloodstream, and regulates other important functions. Head trauma or certain medical procedures can create a hole in our skull, causing CSF to leak out, but leaks can also seemingly happen for no reason. A CSF leak, aside from causing headaches and a never-ending runny nose, can raise the chances of a potentially fatal brain infection like meningitis.

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Frightening as it must be, a CSF leak is fairly easy to treat these days (it once required extensive brain surgery). Earlier this April, Nebraska Medicine doctors went up through Jackson’s nose and grafted some of her own fatty tissue to plug the hole. And Jackson is already on the mend.

“I don’t have to carry around the tissue anymore,” Jackson said, “and I’m getting some sleep.”

Doctors at Nebraska Medicine are continuing to check her vitals, ensuring that her brain’s internal pressure stays level. But all indications are that she’ll make a full recovery. And they hope that her story highlights the importance of having a doctor willing to listen to you, especially if your health problems don’t improve.

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“Find a doctor that you can have a good relationship with,” Carla Schneider, a physician assistant who treated Jackson, told CBS News, “and never be afraid to get a second opinion. We won’t be offended.”

There doesn’t appear to be any clear indication of how often CSF leaks happen annually, but a 2015 study found that there were just under 500 surgeries performed to treat a spontaneous CSF leak in 2012. The number of people with a runny nose who will freak out after reading this article, on the other hand, is sure to be much higher.

[KETV, CBS News]

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