Because your brain and spinal cord are delicate, you have a strong skull and backbone to protect them. Between vital parts of your central nervous system and hard bone, you have cerebrospinal fluid. A traumatic injury to your brain may tear the membrane that holds your cerebrospinal fluid in place.
If the membrane breaks, cerebrospinal fluid may drain through your nose or ears. While a cerebrospinal fluid leak is often a medical emergency, doctors frequently misdiagnose the condition as sinus infection, migraine headaches or even normal drainage.
How misdiagnoses happen
Modern medicine gives doctors a variety of tests and other options for diagnosing and treating injuries and illnesses. A cerebrospinal fluid leak is diagnosable with a simple nasal fluid test. If the nasal fluid contains a certain protein, which is almost exclusively in cerebrospinal fluid, doctors may recommend a brain scan to locate the rupture.
Regrettably, though, many doctors do not order the appropriate tests. Instead, they often see nasal fluid or ear fluid and believe patients have a more common malady. This leads to misdiagnoses or delayed diagnoses.
Why misdiagnoses are dangerous
Cerebrospinal fluid delivers vital nutrients to your brain and spinal cord while removing toxic waste. If you do not have an adequate supply of cerebrospinal fluid due to a leak, your brain may starve or sustain damage from poisoning. Even worse, if your doctor does not make the right diagnosis, you may also be vulnerable to a catastrophic brain infection.
Doctors who misdiagnose cerebrospinal fluid leaks put their patients’ lives in danger. Ultimately, if your symptoms do not improve or worsen, you may need to see a different physician to obtain the right diagnosis.