Throughout a person’s life, they might well encounter some unusual issues with their body. Yet whether it be an ache or a rash, these ailments can often resolve themselves after a short while. That wasn’t the case for a man named Greg Phillpotts in North Carolina, however. And that’s because Phillpotts struggled to shake off what initially seemed to be a fairly innocuous issue – but was actually a life-threatening concern.
Like a lot of other people throughout the years, you see, Phillpotts was suffering from a runny nose. But by February 2018, he’d been dealing with the issue for around half a decade. And during that period, a number of medics had found it difficult to pinpoint precisely what the problem was.
In fact, the experts told Phillpotts that his ailment was either bronchitis or pneumonia. Yet no one could give the man a definitive explanation for his problems. So he continued to assume that his runny nose was being caused by allergies. And while that is somewhat irritating, the grandfather appeared to have a handle on the condition until early 2018 – at which point something changed.
One night in February, Phillpotts couldn’t shake a nasty cough – and this left him feeling increasingly worried. So after the incident had passed, he decided to visit Mount Sinai Hospital, located in his old home city of New York. And at that point, the North Carolina resident was at last given the answers he’d been looking for. The problem was a lot more serious than a simple allergy, however.
For some of us, of course, certain periods of the year can be daunting due to allergies. And while people are often able to avoid some of the direct physical causes of an allergic reaction, such as a particular animal or food item, other irritants can’t be sidestepped so easily. Pollen, for example, is one of the biggest problems in this regard.
A form of powder usually found in plants, pollen can cause allergies such as hay fever to flare up during the summer months. And as a result, those who are prone to the condition have to be alert to pollen levels – especially if they’re outside. Sometimes that just isn’t enough, though, so many people simply can’t avoid enduring the unpleasant symptoms of hay fever.
One of the most common hay fever symptoms is a runny nose, too, as the pollen can inflame your nasal passage. In addition to that, though, sufferers are also prone to excessive sneezing and blocked noses, while their eyes can be affected as well. This allergy isn’t a particularly recent problem, mind you.
Hay fever appeared in texts as far back as the 10th century, in fact, when a Persian doctor named Rhazes described its effects. Hundreds of years later, in 1859, British physician Charles Blackley discovered the significant connection between pollen and the allergy.
And today a significant number of people across the world still have to deal with the condition. In America alone, for example, nearly 20 million adults in 2017 had been afflicted with hay fever over the preceding 12 months. More than five million children received the same diagnosis during that time frame as well.
So in 2013 Greg Phillpotts appeared to be yet another victim of a troublesome allergy. He had started to display one of the condition’s symptoms, after all. Yes, the grandfather had to deal with a runny nose – but thought little of it. As we’ve heard, though, unfortunately for him the issue continued for quite some time.
In 2016 Phillpotts packed his bags for Johnston County, North Carolina, following the retirement of his spouse. As he left New York behind, however, he still couldn’t shift the irritation in his nose. And according to Phillpotts, keeping it under control proved to be a real challenge.
“You could be anywhere,” Phillpotts said of his symptoms during an interview with WTVD in November 2018. “You could be on the airplane, you could be talking to anybody, and this thing just drains out of your face. I was stuffing tissues up my nose.” He then revealed a little more about the condition’s cycle.
Just like a typical allergy, Phillpotts’ ailment would flare up during a particular period of the year. “I have an annual allergy that comes [on] around February,” he continued. “Sometimes it won’t go away. And then I gotta go find some Jamaican roots to drink! Anything just to knock the cough down.”
This self-described “annual allergy” proceeded to make an unwelcome appearance during Thanksgiving in 2017 – causing a big problem for Phillipotts’ family. “I was preparing a meal and standing in the kitchen, and it just added itself to the ingredients,” he told the television station. “It screwed up the whole dinner.”
As a result of exasperating moments like that, no doubt, Phillpotts had tried to get some answers by visiting a number of different doctors down the years. Incredibly, though, the medics couldn’t pinpoint what the issue was – despite checking him over. That subsequently led to varying diagnoses, one of which was bronchitis.
“Bronchitis is an infection of the main airways of the lungs (bronchi), causing them to become irritated and inflamed,” reads a description of the condition on the U.K.’s NHS website. “Most cases of bronchitis develop when an infection irritates and inflames the bronchi, causing them to produce more mucus than usual. Your body tries to shift this extra mucus through coughing.”
Alongside the coughing, though, one of the other signs that you might have bronchitis is a runny nose, due to the surfeit of mucus in your system. Given that Phillpotts described having a cough as well, then, it seemed to be a reasonable diagnosis. Yet he received contrasting information from another doctor, who instead claimed Phillpotts had pneumonia.
“Pneumonia is swelling (inflammation) of the tissue in one or both lungs,” the NHS website states. “It’s usually caused by a bacterial infection. At the end of the breathing tubes in your lungs are clusters of tiny air sacs. If you have pneumonia, these tiny sacs become inflamed and fill up with fluid.”
Much like bronchitis, then, pneumonia causes you to develop a nasty cough that sometimes brings up mucus. But as the uncertainty about his ailment continued, Phillpotts went on with his life as usual and tried as best he could to endure the symptoms. In February 2018, though, that all changed after he received a real scare.
“It became normal up until February, because I was up all night coughing,” Phillpotts told WTVD. “You’re sitting here, you’re a family man. You don’t want to check out of the picture when it’s something someone could readily fix.” So the grandfather looked to solve the mystery once and for all.
Phillpotts therefore booked an appointment at one of the hospitals under the Mount Sinai Health System – located back in New York. First established in 2013, the health network boasts in excess of 6,000 doctors. And Phillpotts was due to meet Dr. Alfred Iloreta in the hope of finding some firm answers to his questions.
Thankfully for Phillpotts, then, he appeared to be in capable hands. “Alfred Marc Iloreta is an Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology and member of the Division of Endoscopic Skull Base Surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine,” reads a post on the hospital’s website. “He received his medical degree from the University of Kansas School of Medicine.”
Dr. Iloreta’s accolades don’t end there, either, as he continued his medical training after graduating. “[He] completed his internship and residency at Mount Sinai Medical Center, and a fellowship in Skull Base Surgery and Rhinology at Thomas Jefferson University,” the post added. Off the back of that, the physician started to focus on various “clinical interests.”
Dr. Iloreta in fact began to specialize in issues relating to the neck and head, with a particular focus on certain types of tumors. And while he continues to work at the hospital three days a week, that hasn’t stopped him from broadening his horizons. Even now, Dr. Iloreta’s still compiling personal studies.
“[Dr. Iloreta’s] current research is focused on health outcomes following skull base surgery, sinus surgery and rhinoplasty,” reads the post on the hospital website. “Dr. Iloreta has authored textbook chapters and published manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals in rhinology, facial plastic surgery, neurosurgery and otolaryngology. He has been invited to teach at skull base courses around the country.”
So, back at the facility in the Big Apple, Dr. Iloreta met Phillpotts and examined him. And following those tests, the Mount Sinai practitioner was able to pinpoint what the issue was – bringing the five-year mystery to an end. Few people could’ve predicted the eventual diagnosis, however.
As it turned out, Phillpotts was suffering from cerebrospinal fluid leak – better known as a CSF leak. So what he thought was just a runny nose was actually fluid leaving his brain. Dr. Iloreta subsequently gave a detailed description of the condition and the dangers it can pose if left untreated.
“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. Iloreta told WTVD. “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.”
While many diseases and other medical conditions were first written about hundreds of years ago, the same can’t be said for CSF leaks. This particular ailment was actually only initially studied by a German named Georg Schaltenbrand in the late 1930s. The Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Henry Woltman then conducted further research more than a decade later.
The condition itself is very rare, though, with just 0.005 percent of individuals suffering its effects annually. Yet Phillpotts wasn’t the only person in the U.S. to be diagnosed with a CSF leak in 2018. In fact, a woman from Omaha, Nebraska, had experienced very similar symptoms to him before getting to the bottom of her ailment.
“When it first started out, I just thought it was my allergies or a runny nose,” Kendra Jackson told CNN in May 2018. “Like the beginning of a fresh cold. When it didn’t go away, I kept going back and forth to the doctors, and they prescribed every kind of medicine you can think of. And my nose just kept on running.”
Much like Phillpotts, Jackson had also suffered with her runny nose for a significant period of time. In fact, the Omaha resident had felt the effects for around two years. She then visited Nebraska Medicine in 2018 in the hope of discovering the real cause of the problem – and finally received some answers.
So after undergoing a scan, Jackson was told that she had a little hole in her cranium that had caused a CSF leak. And she had an idea as to how that might’ve happened. A couple of years before the symptoms had started, you see, Jackson had survived a bad accident in her vehicle during which she’d banged her head on the dashboard.
And according to Jackson’s physician, Dr. Christine Barnes, her suggestion could’ve been correct. “She was rear-ended and had head trauma, so it’s certainly possible,” the doctor said. “It may have caused a bit of a thin area there. Her symptoms actually started a little bit after [the accident], so for her, I think there’s probably a combination of both the trauma and the increased pressure.”
To solve the issue, Jackson required an operation, with Dr. Barnes looking to close the hole up. For that to happen, though, Barnes first needed to take different pieces of tissue away from Jackson’s body. And after completing that procedure, the tissue was used to fix Jackson’s skull, which stopped the CSF leak.
“I used tissue from the inside of [Jackson’s] nose to plug the leak,” Dr. Barnes told CNN. “I also borrowed some abdominal fat. It makes a great plugging agent in this location. So with just a tiny bit of fat, I was able to plug the leak.” And as Barnes suggested, the surgery was a success – much to Jackson’s delight.
After two frustrating years, then, Jackson’s nose is now back to normal. “I don’t have the nasal drip anymore, but I still have the headaches,” she said a few weeks on from the operation. “I actually feel pretty good, and I’m able to get a little bit of sleep.”
Jackson also had a message for those who might be experiencing similar symptoms to her. “For people who hear my story, if they’re tasting a very salty taste and something’s draining in the back of your throat, it’s probably something other than allergies,” she said. “So get to the doctor.”
As for Phillpotts, he required a similar operation to Jackson’s in order to close his CSF leak. And just like Dr. Barnes had done for Jackson, a group of surgeons removed a piece of tissue from the grandparent’s anatomy and used it to fix the issue. Thankfully for Phillpotts, too, the procedure cleared everything up.
After the surgery, Phillpotts tried his best to describe how he felt now that his nose was completely clear of the fluid. “Have you ever been so congested that you can’t breathe?” the North Carolina resident asked a WTVD reporter. “All of sudden you can breathe again – and what a relief that was!”