Arizona had one of the worst allergy seasons in recent memory this year. Even people who normally don’t suffer found themselves with itchy eyes and runny noses.
Thankfully it’s only a couple months out of the year, but for one valley man, he had year-round allergy symptoms. A runny nose all the time.
He was shocked to find out after years of suffering, his runny nose was really a leaking brain.
Joe Nagy first noticed it when he sat up to get out of bed.
"Brooop! This clear liquid dribbled out of my nose like tears out of your eyes. I go what is this?"
A runny nose that got worse.
"Once or twice a week. Then pretty soon it was all the time."
He started taking allergy medicine, but the runny nose didn’t stop.
"I got to the point where I had tissues all the time. in my pocket full of tissues always had them all folded up."
He still remembers the embarrassing moments when he couldn’t get to the tissues in time, like when he was picking up blueprints for his model airplanes.
"It was about a teaspoon full. Splashed all over the top sheet… I said, these damn allergies. I was embarrassed as hell."
Fed up with the runny nose, Joe went to a specialist to test that fluid dripping out of his nose and found out it wasn’t a runny nose. It was leaking brain fluid.
"I was scared to death if you want to know the truth."
The membrane surrounding Joe’s brain had a hole in it and his brain fluid was leaking out.
"You don’t really think about it, but our brains are really just above our noses all of the time," says Barrow Neurological Institute neurosurgeon Peter Nakaji.
"This is one of the more common conditions to be missed for a long time… because so many people have runny noses."
Joe was ready to have brain surgery to fix the leak. When he got a near-deadly case of meningitis, that brain fluid became infected.
"Some people come in with meningitis and at first they have to be treated to stop the infection itself. Then as soon as the infection is under control we repair the leak."
You might wonder how Joe could have brain fluid leaking out of his nose for a year and a half. Wouldn’t the brain dry out?
Each day our bodies produce about 12 ounces of brain fluid, give or take. Producing enough to keep the brain bathed in liquid.
"These leaks can be very very tiny, a little like a puncture on a bicycle tire, that sometimes you have trouble even finding where it is."
Dr. Nakaji eventually found the leak.
"If you look right here you can see a little tiny hole. You see a little bit of what looks like running water."
Dr. Nakaji showed us how this problem is fixed with surgery.
"Nowadays we do quite a bit of surgery on the brain and base of brain through the nose. We never have to cut up into the brain. We’re getting a needle up into the space to check it out, and then to put a little bit of glue. This is just a bit of cartilage from the nose that we can get to repair over it and then the body will seal it up."
Joe wasn’t convinced it would work. After all, he’d been dealing with the problem for so long. But days after the surgery, they removed the gauze from his nose.
"I was waiting for the dribble. This leaking cause I was so used to it every day. I got my hankie. Nothing. It’s never come back."
What has come back is his desire to work on the hobbies he loves, like his model airplanes. And bigger projects.
"Now I’m going to build a sailboat and the sailboat I’m building is called a Great Pelican."
And after all he’s been through, Joe feels pretty confident this boat won’t leak.
Before you call a brain surgeon about your runny nose, Dr. Nakaji says it most likely is just a runny nose. Brain fluid, it’s different than a runny nose caused by allergies in that the liquid is very, very clear.
So if you have a chronic runny nose, start with an allergist or an ear, nose and throat specialist. They can perform a simple test to determine if it’s a typical runny nose or something more serious.
The causes of this type of leak can be numerous. Sometimes a past head injury can lead to brain fluid leaking, or it can be caused from complications of a spinal tap or surgery.