A Woman Thought Her Nose Was Running From Allergies, Then She Learned She Was Leaking Brain Fluid

She was losing a half pint of cerebrospinal fluid per day through a leak in her nose.

a woman was leaking brain fluid from her nose
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She was losing a half pint of cerebrospinal fluid per day through a leak in her nose.

A Nebraska woman thought her runny nose, which had lasted, almost nonstop, for years, was due to allergies, but it was actually caused by leaking brain fluid, KETV (Omaha) is reporting.

In 2013, Kendra Jackson was rear-ended in a car accident, causing her to smack her face on the dashboard. That was five years ago, and for five years, Kendra had been having a nonstop runny nose. So nonstop, she says, that she carried a box of tissue with her wherever she went.

“Everywhere I went I always had a box of Puffs, always stuffed in my pocket. [It was] like a waterfall, continuously, and then it would run to the back of my throat.”

It never stopped. The runny nose, and accompanying headaches, would bedevil her 24/7, interrupting her sleep and making her just sort of shuffle through life from exhaustion.

“I was like a zombie.”

Though in the back of her mind she suspected her accident might have had something to do with her condition, she — and her doctors — kept coming up with more mundane explanations. Allergies, changes in the weather, the harsh Nebraska winters… all were suggested as reasons. But none of that did anything to ease her symptoms.

Eventually Kendra got some solid answers from Nebraska Medicine rhinologist Dr. Christie Barnes. It was Dr. Barnes who put two and two together – the car accident and facial injury plus the incessant runny nose — and figured out what the problem was: Kendra was leaking “brain fluid” (actually cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF) through her nose.

Specifically, she was losing a half pint per day of the the viscous liquid that coats her brain and spinal cord. By way of comparison, that’s about the equivalent of a cup of coffee.

Fortunately, the problem was relatively easy to fix, says Dr. Barnes. All they had to do was use some of Kenra’s own fatty tissue to plug up a very small hole between her skull and her nostrils. The surgery was quick and minimally invasive.

“We go through the nostrils, through the nose. We use angled cameras, angled instruments to get us up to where we need to go.”

Though plagued by annoying symptoms for five years, Kendra was actually pretty lucky: one of the functions of cerebrospinal fluid is keeping the brain and spinal column safe from infection, and in losing so much of it, Kendra was at risk of developing a life-threatening infection.

Nowadays, Kendra says the surgery has made a world of difference. She’s sleeping, she feels like a new woman, and she no longer carries around a box of Puffs, she says with a laugh.