Woman who thought she had a stubborn case of runny nose was actually having a 'brain fluid' leak

Kendra Jackson said she lived with her symptoms for years before finding out what was really behind her continuously runny nose.


                            Woman who thought she had a stubborn case of runny nose was actually having a 'brain fluid' leak

Doctors were stunned when what they thought was a simple case of a runny nose morphed into something much more complex.

The subject, Kendra Jackson said that she lived with symptoms a several years after only recently finding out that her condition was way too complicated than she imagined.“Everywhere I went, I always had a box of Puffs, always stuffed in my pocket,” Jackson told KETV.

Doctors at Nebraska Medicine surgically fixed Kendra Jackson's "potentially dangerous" condition in April.  (Nebraska Medicine)
Doctors at Nebraska Medicine surgically fixed Kendra Jackson's "potentially dangerous" condition in April.  (Nebraska Medicine)

Jackson said that all the symptoms began after she reportedly hit her head during a major car accident in 2013. She recalls hitting her head on the dashboard, which would explain her chronic headaches — but not the cold symptoms. On the other hand, doctors gave her several reasons why she was always coughing, sneezing and needing to continuously blow her nose. Most of them blamed allergies for her condition.

“[It was] like a waterfall, continuously, then it would run to the back of my throat,” she said.

An image of Nebraska Medicine rhinologist Dr. Christie Barnes:


However, Jackson knew that this wasn't just a simple allergic reaction. Her symptoms gravely impacted her day-to-day life and she suffered from constant headaches throughout.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “I was like a zombie.”

Doctors finally concluded what was really wrong with her almost five years after her first diagnosis. Jackson was diagnosed with a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak, which, by layman definition, means that her brain fluid was leaking through her nose "at the rate of approximately a half-pint per day."

When she was diagnosed with the cerebrospinal fluid leak at Nebraska Medicine, they announced her story on Facebook in all-caps, adding to the weight of her predicament: “fluid FROM HER BRAIN WAS LEAKING OUT OF HER NOSE!”

An image of Neurosurgeon Dr. Dan Surdell:


According to medical experts, CSF leaks can potentially lead to serious infections if left unchecked. Symptoms can include a runny nose, liquid in the ear, headaches and vision loss, among others.

In Jackson's case, she got lucky. Surgeons took some of the patient's own fatty tissue to plug the outlet from where the fluid was leaking: a minuscule hole between her skull and nostrils. Fortunately, due to the advancement of medical science, Jackson's doctors were able to use minimally invasive techniques during the procedure, which otherwise would have required brain surgery.

Nebraska Medicine rhinologist Dr. Christie Barnes and neurosurgeon Dr. Dan Surdell operated on Jackson a few weeks ago.  (Nebraska Medicine)
Nebraska Medicine rhinologist Dr. Christie Barnes and neurosurgeon Dr. Dan Surdell operated on Jackson a few weeks ago.  (Nebraska Medicine)

Neurosurgeon Dr. Dan Surdell and Nebraska Medicine rhinologist Dr. Christie Barnes operated on Jackson a few weeks ago. “We go through the nostrils, through the nose,” said Barnes, who is a rhinologist at Nebraska Medicine. “We use angled cameras, angled instruments to get us up to where we need to go.”

According to KETV, Jackson said that her life has significantly improved after having the procedure. Her head felt clear and she was finally able to put the tissues away. For the first time in five years, she was able to get a good night's sleep.

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

CSF leaks are rare and often underdiagnosed. The CSF Leak Association, which is a U.K. charity to promote awareness for the condition, reported that about five in 100,000 people report CSF leaks every year.

Sometimes the CSF leak repairs itself with appropriate rest. However, due to the risk of meningitis more severe cases of the condition can be treated with endonasal endoscopic surgery—where medics operate on a patient using a camera and tools sent through the nose.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a CSF leak results from a hole or tear in the duration, the outermost layer of the meninges. Causes of the hole or tear can include head injury and brain or sinus surgery. CSF leaks may also occur after lumbar puncture, also called a spinal tap or spinal anesthesia. Spontaneous CSF leaks can also occur for no known reason.

On Friday, doctors said that Jackson was recovering fast when Jackson returned to Nebraska Medicine for a follow-up appointment.