This post has been updated.
For years, Kendra Jackson battled an incessantly runny nose — sniffling and sneezing, blowing and losing sleep each night.
Jackson said she initially thought she was getting a cold, then, as her symptoms persisted, doctors suggested it was possibly seasonal allergies, placing her among the more than 50 million Americans who struggle with them each year.
But the symptoms never cleared up, and, as the years went by, Jackson started to worry that it might be something worse.
“When it didn't go away, I kept going back and forth to the doctors, and they prescribed every kind of medicine you can think of, and my nose just kept on running,” Jackson told CNN this week.
She told ABC affiliate KETV that her nose ran “like a waterfall, continuously, and then it would run to the back of my throat.” She said that everywhere she went, “I always had a box of Puffs, always stuffed in my pocket.”
It wasn't until recently that Jackson got some answers. Earlier this year, the 52-year-old woman from Omaha went to see specialists within the Nebraska Medicine hospital system. There, she was diagnosed with a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak, a condition in which the watery liquid surrounding the brain spills out through a hole or tear in the skull and then drains into the ears or the nose, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
The specialists told Jackson that she was losing an estimated half-pint of the fluid per day through her nose, according to KETV.
Last month, they performed a surgical procedure, going through Jackson’s nasal cavity to repair a tiny hole between her skull and nostrils, where her brain fluid was leaking. A spokesman for Nebraska Medicine told The Washington Post on Tuesday that Jackson followed up with doctors last week, and she “is doing extremely well.”
Nebraska Medicine said in a Facebook Post last week that “Doctor after doctor told Kendra the fluid coming our of her nose was because of allergies. But after years of coping with this problem and the headaches associated with it, she turned to the ENT team at Nebraska Medicine. Carla Schneider, PA, discovered Kendra had a CSF leak — cerebrospinal fluid FROM HER BRAIN WAS LEAKING OUT OF HER NOSE!”
Medical experts say that CSF leaks can put patients at an increased risk of infection as well as complications such as meningitis.
In some cases, the leaks occur as the result of a head or spinal injury, or a tumor, or after a medical procedure such as an epidural or a lumbar puncture (or spinal tap); other times, they occur with no known cause, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Jackson told KETV that in 2013, she was involved in a serious car accident — she was rear-ended, causing her to slam her face on the dashboard. A couple of years after the trauma, she said, she developed headaches and a runny nose, which had gotten worse the last couple years.
The specialists at Nebraska Medicine believe that Jackson's injury may have been the result of her car accident.
“She was rear-ended and had head trauma, so it's certainly possible,” Christie Barnes, a rhinologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told CNN. “It may have caused a bit of a thin area there. Her symptoms actually started a little bit after [the accident], so for her, I think there's probably a combination of both the trauma and the increased pressure.”
Barnes, who specializes in nose and sinus problems, said that Jackson would “wake up in the morning after sleeping upright in a chair, and the whole front of her shirt was wet with fluid.”
Although many CSF leaks correct themselves, sometimes they need to be repaired through various medical or surgical means.
On April 23, Barnes, the lead surgeon, and neurosurgeon Dan Surdell at the University of Nebraska Medical Center performed a CSF leak repair, according to the spokesman for Nebraska Medicine.
“We go through the nostrils, through the nose,” Barnes said, according to KETV. “We use angled cameras, angled instruments to get us up to where we need to go.”
Barnes said the surgical team took tissue from Jackson’s body and used it to plug the small hole in her cribriform plate, a very thin bone between the cranial and nasal cavities, according to CNN.
“I used tissue from the inside of her nose to plug the leak,” she told CNN. “I also borrowed some abdominal fat; it makes a great plugging agent in this location, so with just a tiny bit of fat, I was able to plug the leak.”
CSF leaks are rare, with about 5 in 100,000 people diagnosed with them each year, according to data from the CSF Leak Association.
According to the American Rhinologic Society, the leaks become noticeable “when there is clear drainage from the nose or into the back of the throat that may occur with straining or position changes and does not improve with medications aimed at other causes of a ‘runny nose.’ If it drains out of the nose, it is usually from one side. If it drains into the throat, it has been described as salty tasting.”
Other symptoms of cranial CSF leaks, according to Cedars-Sinai, may include:
- Drainage from the ear
- Fluid that spills into the sinus tract and drains through the skin
- Issues with hearing
- Issues with smell
Following her surgery last month, Jackson said she is getting her life back.
“I don't have the nasal drip anymore, but I still have the headaches,” she told CNN. “I actually feel pretty good, and I'm able to get a little bit of sleep.”
Jackson said she hopes her story will raise awareness about the condition, warning others that “if they're tasting a very salty taste and something's draining in the back of your throat, it's probably something other than allergies. So get to the doctor.”
This story, which was published May 8, has been updated.