A Nebraska woman thought that her relentlessly runny nose was just the annoying consequence of chronic allergies, but it turned out to be leaking brain fluid.
For five years, Kendra Jackson’s unending nasal drip and headaches kept her form working, playing with her nine grandchildren and cooking.
Some sleepless nights, she even contemplated suicide. Countless doctors told her the same thing: it was just allergies.
On the brink of madness, Kendra knew her incessantly running nose had to be something more.
Finally, a doctor at Nebraska Medicine became the first to test the fluid, discover that it was leaking from her brain, and a few weeks ago a minor surgery repaired the leak that was ruining Kendra’s life.
Kendra Jackson, 52, said the half pint of fluid that was leaking from her nose daily nearly drove her to suicide as doctors dismissed what was really brain fluid as allergies
A brain fluid leak sounds dramatic and serious, but the condition often goes undiagnosed because its symptoms are so common.
A runny nose sounds innocent enough, but for Kendra it was so constant, and such a ‘waterfall’ of fluid that ‘I was driving myself crazy, I was driving my kids crazy…I had contemplated suicide several times,’ she says.
She lost her ability to smell and instead lived with a constant taste of salt lingering at the back of her throat. That should have been a doctor’s first clue, but none of the countless allergists Kendra saw thought to test the fluid to see if it had come from her brain.
Cerebrospinal suspends the brain inside the skull, keeping it in an ideal position so that it does handle any pressure from pushing against bone. If that fluid starts to drain from around the brain, it can droop, pressing against its harder surroundings and causing headaches.
For Kendra, it wasn’t so much pain as the incessant dropping of her nose that was interfering with her life. When Kendra hit her head on the dashboard, the trauma probably led to a tear in the membrane surround her brain, allowing fluid to escape.
Kendra, now 52, suffered a broken shoulder, and has been plagued with migraines and a relentlessly runny nose ever since.
Her nose started running almost immediately following the accident, but two-and-a-half years ago, the pace really picked up.
After countless doctors failed to diagnose Kendra, Dr Christine Barnes (right) tested the leaking liquid and found that it was cerebrospinal fluid leaking from a membrane hole
As fluid leaked out through Kendra’s nasal passageway, her brain could shift, changing its pressure and causing debilitating headaches
‘I was so healthy up until I had the car accident,’ Kendra says.
She had been working as a driver for an EMT company. But since the accident, she’s had to stop working, plagued by headaches that felt like ‘somebody hit me with a sledgehammer,’ she says.
‘My body was changing, my lifestyle was changing. I couldn’t sleep, I can’t smell and I had to carry a box of tissues with me everywhere.’
Kendra stopped going out to dinner with her husband and her runny nose interfered with her time playing with her nine grandchildren.
‘Even in my own kitchen, when I went to pull something out of the oven, I had to plug my nose up,’ she says.
The dripping and the migraines would wake her up every couple of hours. She slept better during the day, but ‘I was like a bat in a cave, a zombie, just dragging myself through life,’ Kendra says.
She went to doctor after doctor. No one ever diagnosed Kendra with a particular allergy, yet she says she has tried ‘every over the counter medicine you can take and every medicine you can prescribe.’
In a minimally invasive surgery on April 23, Dr Barnes (right) repaired the hole, freeing Kenddra of her relentlessly runny nose
Nothing stopped the salty-tasting fluid from dripping out of her nose and down her throat where it agitated Kendra’s asthma.
Then, one morning, ‘I woke up and I was so miserable, and I thought “I’m going back to where I was born, to a learning hospital and if they can’t figure out what it is, no one can,”‘ Kendra says.
At the end of her rope, Kendra wound up in Dr Christine Barnes’ office.
‘She probably thought I was crazy, because I said “I am not going to leave until you figure out what’s wrong with me,”‘ Kendra recalls.
Dr Barnes listened to her story, and quickly thought to test the fluid leaking from Kendra’s nose to see if it might be from her brain and spine. Her intuition was right, and on April 23, Dr Barnes and a surgical team at Nebraska Medicine performed a minimally invasive surgery to repair the hole.
If the leak had been left untreated, Kendra would have been in danger of developing meningitis, an infection of the brain and spinal fluid that can cause permanent brain damage in less than a day.
Now, ‘I feel great,’ Kendra says.
Her leaking nose ‘interfered with me for five years, so I’m trying to get back on a regular schedule. I’m looking for a positive outcome and [the surgery] was a success as far as I’m concerned,’ she says.