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She thought she had a chronic runny nose. But it was leaking brain fluid

Here's how she learned about her scary diagnosis.
by Donna Freydkin and Gil Reisfeld / / Source: TODAY
This woman thought her nose was running - actually it was brain fluid
This woman thought her nose was running - actually it was brain fluidNathan Congleton/TODAY

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So you have a nonstop runny nose and most likely assume it’s either allergies, or a persistent cold. Most of us, after all, have been there.

Not so the case with Kendra Jackson, 52, a grandmother from Omaha who never left the house without a box of tissues.

"It was like a waterfall, continuously, and then it would run to the back of my throat,” she told Megyn Kelly TODAY.

It all started with a car accident in January 2013. Jackson hit her head on the dashboard. And that led to sneezing, coughing and a constant nose tickle. By 2015, the problem had intensified.

"It just started running more like a water faucet. It just started dripping. And then it would just run real fast in the back of my throat, like a salty taste. And it just never would stop. I never left home without a tissue, ever,” she said.

She felt like a "zombie"

Her lifestyle changed, for the worse. Prior to the accident, Jackson was a “very healthy person” who went on plenty of walks. Not anymore.

"I never slept. I was like a walking zombie. I would be up all night. And when I finally dozed off, it felt like I was drowning in the fluid draining in the back of my throat. So I would sleep sitting up a lot of the times. Then when I did doze off and get a good sleep, when I wake up, my pillow would be soaked. My clothes would be soaked. The sheets would be soaked. That's when I knew it wasn't my allergies,” she said.

This March, she finally learned what was causing it: leaking cerebrospinal fluid, a clear, colorless body fluid found in the brain and spinal cord. She was losing about a half-pint of fluid per day.

It’s typically caused by a traumatic injury and symptoms include — you guessed it — a runny nose, liquid in your ear, headaches and vision loss.

"I was almost in tears. I was so ecstatic. I was so happy" to finally get a correct diagnosis, said Jackson.

Now, she's getting "some sleep"

The condition is rare, and often underdiagnosed. About five in 100,000 people report CSF leaks every year, the CSF Leak Association, a U.K. charity to promote awareness for the condition, reports.

Dr. Christie Barnes, who specializes in rhinology and endoscopic skull base surgery and Dr. Dan Surdell, a neurosurgeon, recently operated on Jackson at Nebraska Medicine.

"We went through the nostrils, through the nose," Barnes said, explaining that a team of doctors used Jackson's own tissue as a plug to prevent fluid from spilling out. "We use angled cameras, angled instruments to get us up to where we need to go."

Jackson was thrilled when the procedure was over. Her head felt clear.

"I don't have to carry around the tissue anymore, and I'm getting some sleep," she says.

But there are still enduring side effects. Jackson’s memory is “still off” and still gets headaches and her sense of taste and smell suffered lasting damage. She doesn't drive far without someone with her because she's afraid of getting lost.

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