‘my Sinus Infection And Runny Nose Turned Out To Be A Brain Fluid Leak’
CSF leaks are rare, but theyre often misdiagnosed.
I was a nursing supervisor in my 40s working at a methadone clinic in Baltimore, Maryland, when I was diagnosed with a sinus infection and bronchitis. It was the first week of October 2019, and I was prescribed antibiotics, as you’d expect. But after I finished the round of medication, I still had a very runny nose.
At first, I thought nothing of itId dealt with plenty of sinus infections before, and maybe I had developed another one already. But one month later, my nose was still running nonstop, and it was noticeably worse whenever I leaned forward. Even stranger? The clear, slightly salty liquid coming from my nose only came out of my right nostril.
A few weeks later, I decided to visit my primary care doctor again. She, too, suspected that I might just have another sinus infection. So to help dry up my sinuses, I started taking over-the-counter decongestants. Still, nothing changed. I felt horrible.
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In bed at night, fluid dripped down the back of my throat, making me cough and choke in my sleep.
I would stuff my nose with tissues until they were soaked. Then, I tried to make a contraption that I could wear to let my nose drain while I slept upright, but that didnt work either. Eventually, I just started sleeping with a towel on my pillow and letting it run, which was a little more comfortable.
I sensed that my family was concernedand at that point, I knew something had to be wrong.
How To Prevent Sinus Infection From Spreading To The Brain
In order to prevent the infection from reaching the brain, follow the general guidelines of hygiene. Also, get in touch with an ENT doctor without any further delay. Some of the preventive measures to keep in mind are-
- Wash the hands with soap and water regularly.
- Do not touch the eyes, nose and mouth after sneezing
- Pay attention to the symptoms
- Avoid taking antibiotics regularly to prevent the bacteria from getting drug-resistant
Antibiotics For A Severe Sinus Infection
You may be surprised that antibiotics are not listed as the first step in treatment. While many patients with sinusitis expect antibiotics, they aren’t usually needed if good drainage is achieved.
Antibiotics have potential disadvantages. They can trigger allergic reactions or cause side effects. Widespread use of antibiotics has encouraged the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria . And many of these drugs are expensive.
Still, if your sinusitis does not improve with two to four days of drainage therapy, or if it’s very severe to begin with, it probably needs an antibiotic to help get rid of the trapped bacteria. Antibiotic therapy for just three to seven days is generally as effective as traditional 10- to 14-day treatment for uncomplicated acute sinusitis.
Many bacteria can cause acute sinusitis the most common include some with fearsome names like Pneumococcus, Streptococcus, Hemophilus, and Moraxella. Unless you have a sinus puncture , there’s really no way to know which bacteria are causing your sinusitis. Cultures of your mucus or your nose, even if they are obtained through a nasal speculum, are not helpful because they are always contaminated by the many bacteria that live in every nose.
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Untreated Sinus Infection Risks
Sinus infections often start to improve on their own after about 10 days. If your symptoms last longer without improving or if they worsen, a doctor may need to treat the underlying cause of the infection.
If a sinus infection affects a sinus cavity close to the brain, it can spread to the brain if left untreated. Though rare, an infection can also pass into the eye socket and cause vision changes or blindness. These types of infections are more common in kids.
While uncommon, a serious fungal sinus infection left untreated may pass into the bones.
Make an appointment with a doctor if you have severe symptoms, or if the following symptoms last longer than 10 days or keep coming back:
Because the cause of your sinus infection can affect your treatment options, its important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if youre looking for a doctor.
If you believe you have chronic or recurring sinusitis, consider asking for a referral to an otolaryngologist, also known as an ear, nose, and throat specialist. You may need imaging and other tests to determine the cause of your symptoms.
An ENT specialist can take a culture of nose drainage to better understand the cause of an infection. The ENT specialist can also examine the sinuses more closely and look for any problem in the structure of the nasal passages that could lead to chronic sinus problems.
Conditions causing your chronic infections may include:
Why You Should Not Delay Antibiotics
In addition to providing much desired relief from chronically congested sinuses, antibiotics also may ward off rare yet very serious sinusitis-related complications that arise when the infection spreads to the brain or eyes. Although rare, sinusitis in the rear center of the head can spread to the brain, causing brain abscess and meningitis.
If sinusitis spreads to the eyes, cavernous sinus thrombosis may develop. Cavernous sinus thrombosis is a condition that causes redness and swelling around the eyes, impaired vision and possibly blindness if left untreated. Treatment for serious cases typically involves IV antibiotics and a CT scan to determine if fluid needs to be drained.
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What Are Sinus Infection And Brain Abscess Symptoms
If you have a sinus infection, you will likely feel facial pressure, nasal congestion and a loss of smell. Your cheeks and forehead could be very sensitive to touch and you might have a thick nasal discharge.
But how can you tell if a sinus infection has spread to your brain? Be alert for the signs of an abscess. While the symptoms of brain abscesses vary among patients, general indicators include:
There is a range of symptoms because the size and location of the abscess will create a different impact on the brains functions. Most patients report a dull, sub-acute headache, which occurs periodically. The pain threshold increases as the brain inflammation grows in size. Eventually, the abscess may cause tiny blood vessels in the brain to rupture causing symptoms reminiscent of meningitis.
It is important to seek professional medical assistance if you suspect you have a sinus infection. One of the key preventative steps for brain abscesses is to treat the underlying infection before the infection can spread. Be sure to follow the doctors instructions, including completing the entire course of any antibiotics you may be prescribed. Even if you start to feel better, the medication sometimes needs longer to fight the underlying infection.
How Serious Can A Sinus Infection Get
Sinus infections affect 31 million Americans every year, making them a major health problem. Understanding when your infection is just an annoyance that will go away on its own and when you should seek medical intention is tricky.
Below is a breakdown of how to know when your sinus infection is serious.
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How One Teen’s Sinus Infection And Brain Surgery Changed His Life
Michael Phipps is ecstatic to have returned to school in January, to be able to hang out with his friends, play video games and enjoy being a teenager. Last June, the 15-year-old and his family werent sure what the future held for him after he underwent an emergency craniotomy at Loma Linda University Childrens Hospital to remove brain abscess caused by Sinusitis.
In early May 2019, Michael had experienced congestion, fever and headaches. Michaels mother, Tacara Phipps, took him to his primary care physician several times for treatment.
The doctor said it was viral something that with rest, water, and antibiotics he would feel better, Phipps said. But as an LVN, I knew when his fevers persisted, that meant the body was trying to fight off an infection.
After a month of ongoing symptoms, Phipps took Michael to see pediatric internal medicine physician, Andrew W. Wai, MD who told the family that emergency treatment was needed, and he was taken to Loma Linda Universitys Emergency Department. A CT scan revealed that Michaels sinus infection had spread to the brain, causing a brain abscess a collection of pus in the brain. The infection had also created a layer of pus between the outside of the brain and the skull, called a subdural empyema.
The last thing I remember going to see Dr. Wai and him sending us to the emergency-department, Michael said. The next thing I knew, I woke up in ICU with the left side of my skull gone.
Types Of Sinus Infections: Chronic Vs Acute
There are four types of sinus infections. These classifications depend on the length and frequency of the infection:
- Acute sinusitis.This type of sinus infection lasts only for a short time, defined by the American Academy of Otolaryngology as less than 4 weeks. This short-term infection is usually part of a cold or other respiratory illness. It may also be caused by a bacterial infection .
- Subacute sinusitis. A subacute sinus infection lasts between 4 and 12 weeks .
- Recurrent acute sinusitis. An acute sinus infection is considered recurrent if the infection returns four or more times within a year, with each infection lasting 7 days or more.
- Chronic sinusitis.Chronic sinus infections last for more than 12 weeks or continue to recur.
Many sinus infection symptoms are common in both acute and chronic forms. Seeing a doctor is the best way to learn if you have an infection, find the cause, and get treatment.
For cases of acute bacterial sinus infections, these symptoms last at least 10 days without improving, or they worsen within 10 days after seeming to improve. In this case, its important to talk with a doctor, such as a general practitioner or an ear, nose, and throat doctor , to get a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Learn more about the symptoms of a sinus infection below.
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When To Seek Emergency Care
The following signs and symptoms can be caused by a serious infection.
- Fever above 101 degrees
- Swelling or redness around the eyes or eyelids difficulty opening or moving your eye a protruding eyeball
- Changes in your vision, including loss of acuity or double vision
- Excessive sleepiness or difficulty waking up
- A severe headache in the front of your head, one you might classify as one of the worst of your life.
When Should I See A Doctor For A Sinus Infection
Its important to come to The Doctors Office & Walk-In Clinic early on when a sinus infection starts brewing. Common signs and symptoms of a sinus infection include:
- Frontal headaches or tooth pain
- Postnasal drip and runny nose
- Greenish nasal discharge
In some cases, having asthma increases your risk of chronic sinusitis, even though no infection is present. If you have asthma and are experiencing any of these symptoms, immediate medical care from The Doctors Office & Walk-In Clinic is particularly important, since the swelling of your nasal passages can make breathing difficult.
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Symptoms That Sinusitis Has Spread To The Brain
A patient experiences severe symptoms when the sinusitis spreads and reaches to the brain. Some of the symptoms including-
- Changes in vision
- Difficulty speaking
- Severe headache inside the skull
However, our Pristyn Care ENT specialist explains that headaches can be a symptom of migraine or pressure build up inside the skull that irritates the brain lining. Another cause of headaches could be brain infection. However, if there is an infection in the brain there can be other symptoms.
When To Get Medical Advice
Any symptoms that suggest a problem with the brain and nervous system should be treated as a medical emergency. These include:
- muscle weakness or paralysis
- seizures occurring in a person with no previous history of seizures
If you or someone you know experiences any of these symptoms, phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.
Any symptoms that suggest a worsening infection, such as a high temperature or being sick, should be reported to your GP immediately.
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When To Worry About An Untreated Sinus Infection
Sinus Infections That Dont Quit: When You Should Worry. Most of us know the discomfort and annoyance of a sinus infection. Especially when they linger on. But few people realize that there are rare cases when untreated sinus infections can turn serious. Advertising Policy Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center.
What Are The Different Types Of Sinus Infections
Most sinus infections are caused by viruses, and theyll usually go away on their own. In fact, if the infection doesnt clear up after a week to 10 days, it can be an indication that its caused by bacteria. It may have started as a bacterial infection, or a viral infection may develop into a bacterial infection after your sinuses become filled with fluid and bacteria then forms.
If you have sinus infections that seem to clear up only to shortly return, you probably have a bacterial infection. Thick, dark, or greenish-yellow nasal discharge is another indication, but your doctor can perform tests to verify the type of infection if needed.
Sinus infections can also be classified as acute or chronic. Acute infections usually start suddenly with symptoms such as a runny, stuffy nose and facial pain and can last up to four weeks. Chronic sinusitis occurs when your infection persists for at least 12 weeks despite attempts to treat it.
In the short term, a sinus infection can cause a long list of symptoms, including the following:
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When To Worry About A Tooth Infection
If you suspect you have a dental abscess, dont wait until it ruptures to seek treatment. Dental infections should be treated promptly to prevent the spread of the infection.
Common symptoms of a dental infection that requires urgent dental care include:
- Noticeable sore under the gums
- Swelling and inflammation near the affected tooth
- Bad taste in the mouth
- A severe, throbbing toothache that doesnt go away
- Swollen and painful lymph nodes in the neck
- Pain when chewing or biting down
Tooth abscesses are dental emergencies. They need to be drained by a professional quickly to prevent spreading. A noticeable sore and severe, throbbing pain are the most common symptoms.
Other Remedies For Symptom Relief
Staying hydrated can help thin mucus to ease congestion.
Drinking hot liquids such as tea and broth may help relieve your symptoms. Breathing in moist air may also help relieve the discomfort that comes with nasal congestion. Try breathing in steam from the shower, a bowl of hot water, or a mug of tea.
If your voice is hoarse, rest it by avoiding yelling, whispering, and singing.
Placing a warm compress over the inflamed area can help reduce pressure and provide relief.
damages the natural protective elements of your nose, mouth, throat, and respiratory system.
If you smoke, consider quitting. Ask a doctor if you need help or are interested in quitting. Quitting may help prevent future episodes of both acute and chronic sinusitis.
Wash your hands frequently, especially during cold and flu seasons, to keep your sinuses from becoming irritated or infected by viruses or bacteria on your hands.
Using a humidifier during the cooler, dryer months may also help prevent sinus infections.
Talk with a doctor to see if allergies are causing your sinusitis. If youre allergic to something that causes persistent sinus symptoms, you will likely need to treat your allergies to relieve your sinus infection.
You may need to seek an allergy specialist to determine the cause of the allergy. The specialist may suggest:
- avoiding the allergen
Keeping your allergies under control can help prevent repeated episodes of sinusitis.
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Diagnosing A Brain Abscess
If a brain abscess is suspected, an initial assessment will be made based on your symptoms, medical history and whether you’ve had a recent infection or a weakened immune system.
Blood tests can also be carried out to check for an infection.
If you’re referred to hospital for further tests, you may have either:
- a CT scan a series of X-rays are used to produce a detailed image of the inside of your body
- an MRI scan which uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce a detailed image of the inside of your body.
If an abscess is found, a procedure known as CT-guided aspiration may be used to remove a sample of pus for testing. This involves using a CT scan to guide a needle to the site of the abscess.
Choose The Expert In Sinus Treatment
Dr. Nguyen is a national expert in ear, nose and throat treatment and is responsible for perfecting innovative and effective treatments like balloon sinuplasty. For more than 15 years, he has been helping people seek relief from their nasal and sinus conditions. Let Houston Sinus and Allergy use the newest technology and our vast experience to customize a solution for your nose and sinuses.
You can reach us by calling , or fill out the form at the top of the page to book an assessment to start feeling better!
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