Mistaking leaking cerebral spinal fluid for a runny nose can be a fatal mistake. Patients who suffer traumatic brain injuries can leak fluid from the brain which often presents as the same type of runny nose caused by allergic reactions or a migraine headache. Mistaking one for the other can delay treatment and result in negative patient outcomes.
Cerebrospinal Fluid Leaks (CSF) are a Common Complication
Most CSF leaks occur immediately following a traumatic head injury. It is common for these to occur in the days and weeks post-injury. However, it is not unheard of for these leaks to occur months, or even years afterward. For this reason, people should notify their physicians of any head injuries they have sustained when pursuing treatment for allergy symptoms.
Nationwide, approximately 5 per 100,000 people in the United States suffer a CSF leak each year. Of these, the majority occur in people with a known traumatic brain injury from car accidents, motorcycle accidents, sports injuries, etc. It is often distinguishable from allergies by the salty, metallic taste the thin and watery fluid gives off. Individuals who suspect a CSF leak should seek prompt treatment as this is the most effective method of preventing long-term injury or death.
Causes of CSF Leaks
CSF’ leaks are caused by tears within the soft tissue that envelopes the brain and spinal cord. These tears allow cerebral spinal fluid to leak out. As the volume of fluid in the brain decreases, this can lead to paralysis, coma, stroke, and potential death. The tears within the tissue can also allow infections to enter the brain. This is particularly dangerous as the nasal cavity is filled with potentially dangerous bacteria that can quickly multiply and cause meningitis and other potentially fatal infections. Once within the brain, it is very difficult to effectively treat these infections.
Treating CSF Leaks
When a CSF leak occurs, physicians can insert a shunt in the brain to control the drainage and minimize the risk of intracranial hypertension. If the leak is larger, a surgeon may need to essentially patch the leak with tissue from other areas of the patient’s brain. These procedures are often done via endoscope in order to minimize the risk of fatal complications. In all cases, physicians must closely monitor the patient and identify the cause of the CSF leak.