Contracting COVID-19 is already bad enough. Some people also report brain fog. In other words, after or during their infection, they report memory problems and poor attention span. Your thinking feels fuzzy. So, how long does covid brain fog last?
Researchers are still looking into what all the long-term effects of COVID-19 can be. Cognitive impairment might be a frustrating result for some. Read more to understand why that is and what you can do about it.
Can COVID-19 lead to mental and neurological symptoms or brain fog?
The WHO (World Health Organization) warns that COVID-19 could lead to cognitive dysfunction. The WHO suggests that people with COVID-19 could be at risk for delirium, agitation, or stroke.
Many studies are also noticing that these patients seem to suffer from brain fog. This foggy feeling is usually described as a haze. This deep fatigue causes concentration issues and memory problems. Everyone has probably felt “brain fog” at one point in their life (e.g., when drunk or tired).
There are many ways in which we could understand brain fog caused by COVID-19. It might be that COVID-19 gains access to the central nervous system through the olfactory bulb. Extremely simplified, it might gain access to the brain through your sense of smell.
Other studies believe it might have to do with the inflammation of neurons. Your system might be overly sensitive. Your nervous system protects itself against an illness. This virus is definitely a danger to our bodily integrity.
Another cause of brain fog might be a lack of blood flow to the brain. Less oxygen flow to the brain can be caused by the respiratory problems of COVID.
There is still a lot of research needed.
Can people with mild COVID-19 also get cognitive impairment?
Yes, early research confirms that people with mild COVID can have brain fog. According to a recent systematic review, 10 – 35% of people with mild COVID-19 infection show long COVID. Decreased brain function and fatigue are some commonly described symptoms.
How common is COVID-19 Brain fog?
In a sample study, researchers found that 7.2% of long COVID patients reported a foggy brain. Women, people with respiratory problems at onset, and admission in the ICU (intensive care unit) seem at higher risk of getting brain fog.
How long does COVID brain fog last?
The Mayo Clinic reports that most people recover within weeks from COVID-19. Long-type COVID is reserved for those who have symptoms longer than 4 weeks. We are not exactly sure how long the issues with cognitive function could last.
A research study showed that for 200 adults with long COVID, most patients sought specific care within 2 months (median of 37 days). Some were seeking care for up to 10 months (median 82 days). Brain fog is a symptom was unrelated to mild COVID or hospitalization.
In short, there is still a need for a lot of research on how long cognitive dysfunction or other long-term effects can last.
What are other risk factors for brain fog?
Brain fog is not only caused by COVID. We could even say that it is one of the more recent risk factors to add to this list. Other risk factors for brain function issues are the following:
- Lack of sleep: this might be the most important one. If you don’t rest well, or enough, your brain function can’t be optimal. The more you lack sleep the worse it gets.
- Fatigue from chronic diseases. Examples are chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or other chronic pain syndromes.
- Not eating healthy. Nutritional deficiencies can cause a decline in your brain health and cognitive function.
- Medications you take for other medical conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and so on. Chemo fog is a great example.
- Hormonal changes, like pregnancy or menopause
- Use or abuse of substances like alcohol or (illegal) drugs
- Negative changes in your mental health or stress, like anxiety or depression.
As you can see, COVID-19 is not the only condition related to brain fog. The cause of your brain fog might be a combination of these factors. Or it might still be a direct consequence of COVID, or the stress or mental suffering associated with COVID. A doctor can give better advice if you would like to learn more.
How to manage brain fog?
Cognitive impairment can be managed by lifestyle changes. Medical professionals, like neurologists or neuropsychologists, can help you train your brain function. There are also neurocognitive centers or clinics specialized in rehabilitation.
The first thing you can do is ask your doctor for COVID treatment. Once you recover from COVID, the brain fog might also disappear.
The next option would be to eat a healthy diet. Researchers usually recommend a Mediterranean diet. This complete diet is full of grains, healthy fats, fruits, and greens. A diet full of unprocessed foods is important. It can prevent nutritional deficiencies. These deficiencies can cause brain fog.
Another thing you can do is drink enough water, to avoid dehydration. Regular exercise can be a great addition to a healthy lifestyle. Physical exercise can provide endorphins, energy and get the blood flowing. Moderate exercise is already enough to get these positive effects.
As mentioned above, people who don’t have COVID also experience brain fog every once in a while. A lack of sleep, alcohol or caffeine misuse can also cause these issues. The solution in such a case would be to sleep more and use less coffee or alcohol.
Lastly, it would be a good idea to take some time to rest. You are suffering from an illness. This is time to give your body (and mind) the space to recover. You can focus on things you enjoy, like a hobby. You can go for a walk in nature, try some mindfulness or learn a new skill.
Learning a new skill might not be relaxing to you. Well, that is understandable. The reality is that the brain also needs a challenge. It needs to stay active to be active.
Clinicians recommend keeping the brain active with brain games or deep thinking challenges. This can help with memory problems, mostly the working memory can be supported by these activities.
Keeping your brain active can also look like sudoku’s, visual attention games, or crosswords. Maybe you can train your logical part of the brain by learning chess.
What are long COVID symptoms?
People with long experience new or ongoing symptoms for 4 weeks or months after infection. Some people also refer to long COVID as “long-haul COVID”, “chronic COVID”, “post-acute COVID-19” or “post COVID conditions”.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) defined the following symptoms:
- Breathing difficulties
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Worsening of symptoms after physical or mental activities
- Stomach or chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle or joint pain
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Changes taste or smell
- Changes menstrual period cycles
As you can see, outside of cognitive impairment there are many other symptoms that might be common. Lingering pulmonary issues seem to be a common symptom that is easy to recognize for those tested positive.
How to help with COVID-19 disease control?
If you think that you have COVID-19, it is best to get tested. You can call your doctor in case of symptoms and they will provide you with medical support9. They will advise you on which medication to take, how long to quarantine, and so on.
It is best to stay away from people around you and not share spaces. If you have trouble breathing, heart palpitations, skin color changes (grey), and have trouble staying awake, you should call 911.
When to See a Doctor
If you have recovered from COVID-19 but still show brain fog symptoms, you should call a doctor when it is impacting your daily life.
A neuropsychologist, occupational, physio, and speech therapist can help you prevent permanent damage.
Also, if you show symptoms of stroke (sudden onset of numbness, tingling, weakness, vision changes, changes in speech), you should call 911.
COVID-19 can cause brain fog. This might be an effect of other symptoms, or it might be a symptom of COVID. Research is still needed to pinpoint the cause and how long these symptoms last.
It might be caused by neuroinflammation, a lack of blood flow or oxygen flow to the brain, or a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system.
Brain fog can stay with you for a while for those with COVID-19. Some recover after a couple of weeks, while others might have brain fog for a couple of months after.
The solution would be to take care of your physical and mental health. Focus on recovering from COVID-19 (with the help of health professionals if needed).
If your inability to concentrate has an impact on your daily life, then you should consult a doctor. Also, patients who suffer from mental health consequences should stay in touch with a professional.
If you want to learn more about brain fog and how to get rid of it, check out these helpful resources and feel free to join this online community of brain health professionals and enthusiasts.