A runny nose is usually a sign that you have a cold coming on, but for one North Carolina man, that cold never actually arrived. His sniffles persisted for over a year, with doctors diagnosing him with a variety of possible ailments. As it turned out, none of the suggested causes were actually correct.

With such long-running symptoms, the man, Greg Phillpotts, assumed he had developed some unusually severe allergies. During the days, his nose would run, and at night, he developed a nasty cough due to what he thought was mucus running down this throat. After a visit to New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, he learned that it wasn’t snot at all, but brain fluid leaking out of his skull.

The human brain doesn’t just sit loosely in our skulls, but is instead surrounded by a cushion of fluid that acts as a protective layer to mitigate brain trauma. Normally that fluid stays within the brain case, but sometimes gaps can develop which allow the fluid to leak out.

Earlier this year a similar case of brain fluid leaking was reported. A woman in Nebraska began developing a runny nose after being involved in a car crash. Ultimately it was discovered that the crash had caused a small hole to form in her skull, allowing the fluid to leak into her sinus.

“It’s the leakage of fluid that surrounds the brain to cushion it primarily to protect it from shock or trauma or anything like that,” Dr. Alfred Iloreta of Mount Sinai Hospital told ABC11. “Sometimes when you have this leakage of the fluid from the brain, it can evolve into what we call an ascending infection. So bacteria can travel from the nose to the brain resulting in meningitis.”

That’s pretty serious, not to mention the degraded quality of life Phillpotts was experiencing with a constantly runny nose. Doctors at the hospital patched up the gap with a bit of the man’s own tissue.

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