What are complications of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) rhinorrhea?

Updated: May 08, 2020
  • Author: Kevin C Welch, MD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
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Meningitis is the most feared and severe complication of a CSF leak. Bacterial meningitis is typically due to Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae. The risk of meningitis during the first 3 weeks after trauma is estimated to be 10%. The rate increases to 40% in nontraumatic CSF rhinorrhea.

Some studies have reported that conservative management using bed rest and lumbar drains is associated with a high incidence of ascending meningitis. Thus, prompt surgical closure of a CSF leak is advocated by some authors. Meningitis caused by a persistent CSF leak is associated with a high mortality rate.

Only a small percentage (< 1%) of patients develop new meningitis after surgical closure. Not all cases of postoperative meningitis are due to the aforementioned bacteria. Some patients may develop aseptic meningitis due to meningeal irritation as a result of manipulation during surgical repair.

The surgical mortality rate is 1-3% for intracranial procedures and is negligible for external procedures. Anosmia is the main contributor to morbidity for intracranial approaches, occurring in 20-25% of the cases.

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