Runny Nose Turns Out To Be Leaking Brain Fluid

A perpetual runny nose turned out to be leaking brain fluid for a man in Arizona recently. What Joe Nagy assumed was allergies was actually a condition known as cerebrospinal fluid leak, caused by a small hole in the membrane surrounding his brain.

One morning in 2011, Nagy rose from his bed to find a clear, tear-like liquid leaking from his nasal passages. Soon it was happening once or twice each week. When the problem worsened into a constant runny nose, he chalked it up to allergies, began taking allergy medicine, and kept a constant supply of tissues on hand.

At times, Nagy would find nearly a teaspoon’s worth of the liquid leaking from his nose. “I was scared to death if you want to know the truth,” he confessed in regards to his nagging nasal problem.

Eventually the frustration, puzzlement, and fear of what might be behind the constant dripping prompted him to seek out medical advice from a specialist.

Once the drainage was tested, Nagy was shocked to discover that his chronic runny nose was the result of leaking brain fluid.

Peter Nakaji, a neurosurgeon with the Barrow Neurological Institute, was able to pinpoint the source as a miniscule hole in the membrane encasing Nagy’s brain.

The condition is considered rare, affecting roughly one in 100,000 to 200,000 individuals. It most often presents itself in cases involving head trauma or following surgery to the brain or spine. In some instances, no definitive cause is found.

Because the human body continually produces sufficient fluid for the brain, the actual leaking of such liquid is not particularly dangerous. However, the condition can prove fatal if the brain fluid becomes infected.

According to Dr. Alexander G. Chiu, chief of the division of otolaryngology at the University of Arizona Medical Center, “It can be fatal when there is a connection between the cleanest part of the body, the brain, and the dirtiest part, the nose.”

Such was the case with Joe Nagy, who unfortunately developed a near-fatal bout of meningitis that caused his brain fluid to become infected. He was forced to undergo treatment for the illness before he could have the hole in his brain repaired through surgery.

Luckily, Nagy responded well to treatment, allowing Dr. Nakaji to perform the procedure necessary to stop the leak. The neurosurgeon described how he utilized a small bit of cartilage from Nagy’s nose to plug the membrane hole:

“Nowadays we do quite a bit of surgery on the brain and base of brain through the nose. We never have to cut up into the brain. We’re getting a needle up into the space to check it out, and then to put a little bit of glue. This is just a bit of cartilage from the nose that we can get to repair over it and then the body will seal it up.”

According to Nagy, the surgery effectively stopped the brain fluid from leaking out his nose. “I was waiting for the dribble, this leaking cause I was so used to it every day,” he explained. “I got my hankie. Nothing. It’s never come back.”

[Top image via Shutterstock]