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Difference Between Runny Nose and Brain Fluid

There are fundamentally different causes, contents, and consequences of a runny nose and a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak, despite both causing fluid to drain from the nose. In contrast to runny noses, CSF leaks are rare and potentially dangerous medical conditions that require immediate medical attention.


Both conditions involve fluids draining from the nose

A runny nose

A runny nose is a medical condition caused by mucus escaping the nose because of colder weather, the flu, or allergies. Viral diseases like influenza can cause a runny nose. 

Brian fluid

A CSF leak is a condition in which cerebrospinal fluid escapes through an opening in the dura, the outer layer of the meninges, and exits through the nose or ear. The hole or tear in the dura may be caused by a head injury, brain or sinus surgery, or even lumbar punctures. Occasionally, spontaneous CSF leaks may occur for unknown reasons.

Symptoms such as headache, nasal discharge, meningitis, blurred vision, and tinnitus can be triggered by CSF leaks. There are several treatment options available for CSF leaks, including epidural blood patches, sealants, surgery, transvenous embolization, bed rest, elevating the head of the bed, and using stool softeners to prevent straining.

Difference between a runny nose and brain fluid


A runny nose

The nasal mucosa produces an excessive amount of mucus, which is why a runny nose is sometimes referred to as rhinorrhea or nasal discharge. It is mostly made up of water, mucus, and trace amounts of proteins and immune system cells.

Brain fluid

Cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, is the clear, colorless fluid that envelops the brain and spinal cord. The brain’s ventricles create CSF, which performs a number of vital tasks including shielding and cushioning the central nervous system. It includes glucose, electrolytes, and neurological system-specific proteins.


A runny nose

Rhinorrhea is the term used to describe the discharge or flow of mucus or snot from the nose. This can be caused by various factors such as allergies, the common cold, or exposure to cold and dry air. Rhinitis is a similar condition that involves inflammation of the nasal tissues, often associated with sinusitis.

The mucus that comes out of the nose can vary in consistency and color. Allergies, consumption of spicy food, and cold weather are common triggers for a waterier nasal discharge. On the other hand, when a person has a cold or another type of infection, the body tends to produce thicker mucus.

Brain fluid

A cerebrospinal fluid leak, often known as a CSF leak, is the outflow of the clear, colorless fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. In order to protect and maintain the central nervous system, CSF is essential. Mucus production in the nasal passages is unrelated to CSF leaking, which is a serious medical problem.


A runny nose

A runny nose can be brought on by a number of things, such as allergies, irritants, bacterial or viral infections, and environmental causes.

Brain fluid Leak (CSF Leak)

One of the membranes that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, the dura mater, is usually torn or punctured in cases of CSF leaks. These tears may result from specific medical disorders, congenital abnormalities, surgery, or head trauma.

Appearance and Characteristics

A runny nose

Symptoms such as sneezing, congestion, and sore throat are frequently linked to runny nose discharge, which is typically mucus-like or watery in nature.

Brain fluid Leak (CSF Leak)

If a CSF leak happens, the nose starts to leak a clear, watery fluid. At first, it could be confused for a runny nose, but it usually doesn’t have the mucus like qualities and is continuous and persistent instead.

Symptoms and consequences

A runny nose

Most of the time, runny nose is a minor, self-limiting ailment. It doesn’t offer a serious risk to health and is frequently linked to allergies and common colds.

Brain Fluid Leak (CSF Leak) 

Meningitis, infections, and neurological symptoms are just a few of the dangerous outcomes that can result from a CSF leak. To stop the leak and avoid consequences, emergency medical attention and intervention are needed.


The points of difference between a runny nose and brain fluid have been summarized as below:


How do I know if I have snot or brain fluid?

It is important to note that CSF coming out of your nose differs from nasal mucus in two key ways: drying nasal mucus stiffens a handkerchief, but CSF does not. It is possible to get a runny nose when you bend over to pick something up or tie your shoes, for example.

What is a CSF leak from the nose or mucus?

Cerebrospinal fluid, a clear, colorless fluid that surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord, can leak from the skull and enter the nasal passages or the throat through mucus. This disease is known as a CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) leak. When it seeps via the nose, this ailment is also called a CSF rhinorrhea; when it leaks through the ear, it is called a CSF otorrhea.

CSF is vital to the protection of the central nervous system and is normally found inside the cranial and spinal cavities. Leaks can happen for a number of reasons, including:

CSF is vital to the protection of the central nervous system and is normally found inside the cranial and spinal cavities. Leaks can happen for a number of reasons, including:

Head injury: Trauma can result in a rupture in the meninges, which are the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, which can allow CSF to leak. Examples of this include severe head injuries and skull fractures.

Surgical complications: CSF leaks can occur accidentally during certain surgical operations, especially those that involve the brain or sinuses.

Medical problems: Meninges can become weaker due to certain medical diseases, such as tumors or congenital defects, which can lead to CSF leaks.

Is it CSF leak or sinus infection?

Since sinusitis and CSF leaks both have nasal drainage as one of their primary symptoms, the two conditions are frequently confused. If the infection spreads to the base of the skull, sinusitis might result in a CSF leak. Head trauma and sinus surgery can potentially be the cause.

When I bend over water drips from my nose?

When the brain’s lining or the bone that divides the brain from the sinuses is injured, cerebrospinal fluid may leak into the nose, causing nasal drip that is visible when bending over or leaning forward.

What Color is brain fluid from nose?

Cerebrospinal fluid, or “CSF,” is the clear liquid that runs from the nose or the yellow, watery liquid that comes from the NHS and travels down the nasal passageway and into the throat. At times, it could appear as though an orange liquid is emerging from the nose.

How long can you have a CSF leak without knowing?

The length of time that a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak remains undetected varies depending on the person and the underlying reason. CSF leaks can be caused by a number of things, including head injuries, medical treatments (such spinal taps or operations), unplanned leaks, or underlying medical issues.

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References :

[0]Daneshbod, Y., Mahdavi, A., & Mirfazaelian, H. (2014). The runny nose. Internal and Emergency Medicine, 9, 689-690.

[1]Kirk, T., Kanagaratnam, M., MacKinnon, A. D., & Nitkunan, A. (2018). A runny nose. Practical Neurology, 18(3), 238-239.

[2]Simsek, G., Kozan, E., & Guneysel, O. (2016). A runny nose: Rhinitis or rhinorrhoea?. Hong Kong Journal of Emergency Medicine, 23(2), 57-60.

[3]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAEJEW9mG2o-runny-nose/

[4]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAC8vpQiul4-mri-brain-scan/

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