What Are the Early Symptoms of a Spinal Fluid Leak?

Many cerebrospinal fluid leaks do not cause any symptoms, according to the Department of Otolaryngology at University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. Someone with a cerebrospinal fluid leak may have a headache that improves when he lies down, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness or nausea, explains MedlinePlus. Rarely, cerebrospinal fluid leak sufferers may see fluid drain from their ear or nose.

Cerebrospinal fluid leaks occur due to head trauma, spinal taps, particular surgeries on the head, spine or brain, and tubes used to deliver certain medications, notes MedlinePlus. In some cases, doctors cannot determine the cause of the leak.

To confirm a leak, doctors may order magnetic resonance imaging of the spine or head, states MedlinePlus. Sometimes, medical professionals use a computerized tomography scan of the head or a computerized tomography myelogram instead. Doctors also can order a radioisotope test to follow the cerebrospinal fluid through the body.

Doctors often recommend bed rest for one to two weeks to treat spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leaks or leaks caused by trauma, according to Cleveland Clinic. During this time, they should avoid lifting, straining, coughing and sneezing whenever possible. However, due to the risk of meningitis, some doctors recommend surgery, notes Johns Hopkins Medicine. The most common surgical treatment is an endonasal endoscopic surgery. Doctors may also recommend surgery if noninvasive treatments fail, notes Cleveland Clinic.