Millions of us suffer from allergies, so when Phoenix’s Joe Nagy developed a runny nose one day, he didn’t think too much of it. It started out innocent enough, with a nose drip that would occur once or twice a week, but the frequency began to increase until eventually it was an everyday affair. As the months passed, Nagy began in vain to take allergy medicine and would carry tissues with him all the time, but that didn’t prevent him from dealing with the embarrassment of the times when he couldn’t reach them fast enough to prevent his nose from dripping in public. Finally, a year and a half later, he decided that enough was enough and visited a doctor. The ear, nose and throat specialist tested the clear liquid Nagy had assumed all along was mucus, but to his shock, it turned out be brain fluid.
The brain, it seems, is suspended in a colorless liquid called cerebrospinal fluid that serves various functions, not the least of which is cushioning the brain to protect it from injury. When the membrane encasing the fluid around Nagy’s brain developed a small hole, some of the liquid began to flow downward into his nasal cavity. Luckily for him, the brain produces around 12 ounces of the fluid every day (which is reabsorbed into the body), so there was enough to keep his brain relatively safe.
Neurosurgeon Peter Nakaji had to search inside his skull to find the hole, but only after the added complication of a near-death bout with meningitis that infected his brain fluid. When the infection passed, Nakaji inserted surgical tools through Nagy’s nose and sealed up the hole. Surprisingly, the surgeon claims this case is fairly common and that leaking brain fluid is often mistaken for a run-of-the-mill runny nose. Although the cause of Nagy’s puncture wasn’t clear, such occurrences are typically the result of a head injury or complications from head surgery or a spinal tap.