A Nebraska woman spent years suffering from the sensation of liquid running down the back of her throat and constant headaches, yet despite her concern, she was continually brushed off by doctors who chalked her symptoms up to allergies.
According to a report by KETV-7 ABC, the unpleasant changes began two years after Kendra Jackson sustained moderate head trauma from a 2013 rear-end car accident. Following the impact, Jackson’s face collided with the dashboard.
“Everywhere I went, I always had a box of puffs always stuffed in my pocket,” Jackson told the station. “I knew something was wrong. I knew it.”
When she realized that her issues were more than just a passing cold, she sought medical advice.
“I couldn’t sleep. I was like a zombie. I was up all night.”
Finally, physicians at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha used camera probes to investigate her nasal duct and sinus cavities. They found a small hole between her skull and her nostrils that was leaking approximately 235 milliliters (8 ounces) of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) each day.
CSF is a colorless liquid produced and stored in special ventricles in the brain, and also fills the central canal of the spinal cord. Circulating CSF helps maintain ideal pressure within the tissues and blood vessels in the skull and distributes immune cells on the alert for pathogens. Recent research has shown that in mammals, a surge of CSF flushes through the spaces between brain cells, transporting essential molecules and removing toxic metabolic by-products and cell debris. This process occurs during sleep, thus partially explaining the long-standing link between adequate sleep and brain function.
The body continually produces CSF, around 500 milliliters (16.9 ounces) a day. When the brain depletes this crucial fluid through a leak, the brain essentially wilts inside the skull, leading to the pounding headaches that Jackson experienced.
Per the Cedars-Sinai neurosurgery department, CSF leaks occur when trauma or accidents during surgical procedures create an opening in the tough dura and more delicate arachnoid membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The most telling symptom is a headache that improves when lying down and worsens when sitting or standing, though patients often also feel neck pain or stiffness, nausea, vertigo, changes to vision and/or hearing, changes in taste, and more.
If a patient with a tear that is too large to heal on its own does not receive treatment, pathogens can enter the membranes, resulting in a number of potentially deadly infections collectively referred to as meningitis.
Thankfully, Jackson’s leak was easily repaired by surgeons, who used a piece of her fatty tissue to plug the hole. Though she will need to be monitored in the coming months, she's expected to make a full recovery.