Brain Fog After COVID-19: Why It Happens and What You Can Do
Not only do these reports shed light on how the COVID-19 virus can impact our cognition, but they also illuminate the fact that anyone—no matter their COVID-19 history—can experience persistent brain fog.
If you feel you’ve had brain fog after COVID-19, the Aviv Clinics team is here to help you navigate through that. Stay educated with this essential guide to give yourself the best chance at getting back to optimal health.
As you’re reading through this, keep in mind:
- Each person has a unique experience with COVID-19. Therefore, speaking with a doctor is a critical first step to diagnosing long COVID.
- Per the CDC, several alternative terms are used to reference long COVID, such as post-COVID, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID, and chronic COVID.
What Is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is a term that describes slow or sluggish thinking. Someone with brain fog may experience confusion, forgetfulness, and/or a lack of mental clarity.
We all experience brain fog from time to time. Perhaps you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, took an antihistamine, or had a cold that made you feel unfocused or disoriented. In cases like these, you can simply rest and feel like yourself in no time.
But sometimes, individuals experience brain fog that lingers even beyond six months after having COVID. This has been one of the main symptoms of post-COVID.
Is Brain Fog a Symptom of Long COVID?
Yes, brain fog is a common symptom of long COVID—the CDC lists brain fog under its neurological symptoms. Brain fog from COVID-19 doesn’t necessarily need to manifest on a substantial level; it can be subtle. One study notes participants who didn’t notice their brain fog still performed poorly on attention and memory tasks.
Why Does COVID-19 Cause Brain Fog?
Stanford Medicine researchers note brain fog from COVID-19 emulates the same cognitive issues caused by cancer chemotherapy (“chemo brain”). In both cases, excessive inflammation damages the brain cells and processes.
Aviv physician Dr. Mohammed Elamir, MD, FACP, further explains there is a link between:
- Where the COVID-19 virus attacks the brain
- How that impacted location in the brain affects long COVID symptoms
There are four main ways COVID-19 can attack the brain:
- Direct brain invasion: The virus travels through the nose and into the insula—which oversees memory and executive function through its connection with the prefrontal cortex.
- Blood vessel injury: The COVID-19 virus may harm blood vessels that feed blood to the brain.
- Dysregulated immune response: Damaged blood vessels caused by COVID-19 can slow down the growth of cells, impacting the brain’s immune response.
- Cellular dysfunction: COVID-19 can trigger cell damage. This slows down the body’s response rate to infection, leading to high inflammatory conditions.
Is My Brain Fog Related to COVID-19?
If you notice your cognition has not been the same since your COVID-19 infection, we recommend speaking with a physician. Your body and health background are entirely unique from other people’s. Therefore, it’s important to discuss your lingering symptoms with a healthcare professional to assess whether your brain fog is indeed due to long COVID.
The certified physicians at Aviv Clinics assess the following four areas to diagnose long COVID. Walking through these four areas enables your physician to provide the holistic approach your health deserves.
- Physical symptoms: Fatigue, cough, loss of taste or smell, labored breathing, joint or muscle pain, etc.
- Cognitive and psychological symptoms: Brain fog, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, headaches, etc.
- Lung symptoms: Shortness of breath, chest pain/tightness, etc.
- Cardiac symptoms: Heart palpitations, elevated blood pressure, decline in oxygen saturation, etc.
How Can You Minimize Post-COVID Brain Fog?
Minimizing post-COVID brain fog involves engaging in activities known to improve memory and thought processes. These activities may include:
- Getting adequate sleep
- Eating a well-balanced diet
Addressing Long COVID Symptoms
Multiple studies reveal, as part of a comprehensive treatment program, hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) may help in mitigating long COVID symptoms. From clinical and qualitative evaluations of HBOT patients, researchers conclude there is hope that HBOT can address some of the common symptoms such as fatigue and brain fog.
Aviv Clinics’ team of certified physicians takes a three-step approach to their long COVID treatment:
- In-depth medical assessment: Conducting comprehensive testing (physical, cognitive, and neurological) and brain imaging
- Tailored treatment program: Creating a customized treatment plan based on your test results
- Post-treatment assessment: Administering second round of testing to unveil findings/progress
Learn more about Aviv’s long COVID approach.
How Long Does Post-COVID Brain Fog Last?
As everyone’s bodies are different, there is no set time limit to COVID-19 brain fog. Some research studies indicate that most patients recover within six to nine months, with others experiencing brain fog for two years or more.
Dr. Mohammed Elamir, MD, FACP, says how long it takes for brain fog to go away depends on how invasive the virus is in your body:
“[…] the amount of real estate that those microvascular changes are occupying will probably dictate how long [symptoms] will last.”
The Bottom Line
Brain fog from COVID-19 can be difficult to live with. If you or a loved one suspects COVID-19 has left lingering cognitive issues, contact Aviv Clinics. Our team will offer the resources you need to learn more about how our team of physicians treats long COVID symptoms. Feeling your best cognitively and physically starts with us.
Brain Fog Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
“I feel I’m just getting by on autopilot. I feel delayed with my actions and reactions to questions and situations.”
“It’s almost identical to what I go through when I’m awakened from a dream–just total bewilderment and almost complete inability to process anything that’s going on.”
“Sometimes I am very far off. I’ll pause and get confused in the middle of doing things. I’m drowsy all the time and just don’t know what’s going on.”
“I feel heavy on the front of my head, unrefreshed, similar to a hangover or jet lag.”
“I feel like Dory in Finding Nemo.”
If any of these sound familiar, then you know what “brain fog” feels like. Brain fog is a symptom—not a diagnosis or disease. It leaves a person temporarily unable to concentrate or think clearly.
Not all brain fog is created equally: anything from stress to dehydration to a urinary tract infection (UTI) can cause mild, temporary brain fog. COVID-19 itself may be increasing rates of a particular kind of brain fog seen in “long-haul” COVID cases.
Regardless of the cause, the forecast for the brain remains the same: foggy, forgetful, and fuzzy around the edges.
Fortunately, new treatments, such as the innovative hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) medical protocol at Aviv Clinics, may offer relief from brain fog. Understanding brain fog causes, symptoms, and tips to manage brain fog can help you take charge of this difficult cognitive condition.
What Is Brain Fog?
Brain fog describes a feeling of confusion and forgetfulness, as well as a lack of mental focus. The effects of brain fog can range from mildly annoying to completely debilitating.
The term “brain fog” can refer to isolated or minor cognitive effects that last hours or days. Still, it can also refer to significant, constant, and debilitating cognitive struggles.
What Causes Brain Fog?
Brain fog isn’t a specific medical diagnosis, but a side effect of an emotional or medical condition.
Your mental muddiness may be for more common reasons:
- Stress—Stress impacts the entire body—the brain included. When stress becomes chronic, it can negatively affect the brain, inhibiting it from functioning at an optimal level.
- Lack of sleep—Another obvious, but often overlooked, cause of brain fog is lack of sleep. Sleep deprivation interrupts the brain cells’ ability to communicate with one another, resulting in a lack of focus or clarity. More severe sleep issues, such as sleep apnea, can also cause brain fog and cognitive decline.
- Hormones—Menopause is known for wreaking havoc on the brain. The drop in estrogen levels can trigger memory and concentration issues. Hormonal changes are also known to exacerbate sleep deprivation, which may contribute to brain fog. Learn more about menopause and brain health.
- Diet—Some food allergies have been shown to contribute to brain fog. In addition, a vitamin B12 deficiency (which supports healthy brain function) can drive brain fog. Depression and fatigue are noted as common symptoms in research studies.
Medications—Medications, especially psychiatric and antibiotics, can have side effects that impact brain performance. This is especially common in older adults whose metabolic process is slower, making them more sensitive to medications.
When Should You Be Worried about Brain Fog?
A sign that your brain fog may be cause for concern is when memory problems and other cognitive issues interfere with normal functioning. People with mild cognitive decline and/or early stages of dementia may find they have difficulty completing simple, everyday tasks like paying bills.
This infographic from the National Institute on Aging details some common differences between normal aging and signs of serious memory loss.
Brain Fog and COVID-19
Experiencing brain fog long after recovering from COVID-19 is common. As Aviv physician Dr. Mohammed Elamir, MD, FACP, explains, there is a link between where the COVID-19 virus attacks the brain and how that impacted location affects long COVID symptoms.
If you’ve had COVID-19 and haven’t felt the same since, reach out to a trusted physician.
Your physician may ask about:
- Your current physical activity levels
- Medications or supplements you’re taking
- Possible nutritional deficiencies
- Possible infections and inflammatory diseases/conditions
- A timeline of symptoms
- How symptoms have changed over time
Your doctor may also request a blood test, CT scan, or advanced MRI.
What Can You Do to Fight Brain Fog?
Brain fog may be a sign that your body isn’t operating at peak performance, much like when you get sick with a cold or flu. The brain needs constant oxygen, the right supply of nutrients, and rest in order to function well.
When we fall short in one area of health, it’s easy to spiral out of control. Looking at the list of causes for brain fog, the cycle becomes clear: lack of sleep can lead to stress, which can lead to poor diet, and so on.
Often, the key to managing brain fog lies in good self-care. To ensure general health and wellness, try to:
- Manage stress—Many people find meditation helpful in dealing with stress.
- Eat a variety of healthy foods—Maintain a diet rich in vitamins and nutrients.
- Get enough sleep—What qualifies as a “good night’s rest” varies from person to person, so figure out what is right for you and stick to it.
- Maintain physical activity—Exercise has proven benefits for the brain. Start with 30 minutes per session, three days per week.
- Drink enough water every day—Some cases of brain fog are due to simple dehydration.
- Challenge the brain with games, puzzles, or novel experiences—Here’s a free brain training game to get you started.
- Try intermittent fasting. Many report that intermittent fasting helps clear brain fog and sharpen the mind.
Unique Medical Protocol at Aviv Clinics
An effective cognitive treatment plan may involve hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) in combination with cognitive, nutritional, and physiological protocol. Aviv Clinics’ science-based treatment protocol helps to enhance brain performance and reduce brain fog for many conditions like traumatic brain injuries, fibromyalgia, Lyme, and dementia.
Based on over a decade of research and development, the intensive treatment protocol is customized to your needs. Aviv Clinics in central Florida is the only center in the United States to offer this program.
Get Back to Optimal Cognitive Health with Aviv
For more guidance on managing your self-care and staying healthy, contact Aviv Clinics. Our diverse medical team will be happy to provide the personalized care you need to get back to optimal health.