What Exactly is COVID-19 Brain Fog?

By Hana Frenette
NeuLine Health

By now, most people are familiar with the physical signs and symptoms of COVID-19: shortness of breath, fever, cough, sore throat, difficulty breathing, fatigue. But there’s another symptom, often referred to simply as “brain fog” that doctors are seeing more of as the pandemic continues.

Brain fog is a term typically used to describe the inability to focus or to recall information, decreased attention span or a sluggish mental state. It’s not uncommon to experience brain fog after a sleepless night, the morning after heavy alcohol consumption, during periods of significant stress or as a side effect to certain medications. Normal bouts of brain fog are typically brief, ranging from a few hours to a day. 

COVID-19 brain is different—it lingers for weeks or months, sometimes causing significant damage to a person’s ability to work or carry out complex tasks. 

Although COVID-19 is categorized as a respiratory illness, it can have major effects on the brain and neurological function, including the potential for strokes, memory loss or prolonged brain fog. 

How COVID-19 Affects the Brain

The most common way COVID-19 damages the brain is through inflammation, also referred to as encephalitis. The severity of the inflammation can range from subtle to life-threatening.

Brain damage can also occur from lack of oxygen, depending on the severity of the COVID-19 case and the ability for a patient to receive breathing assistance. According to Harvard Health Publishing, ongoing autopsy reports have shown irregular brain tissue samples from those who have died from COVID-19. The samples contained a cell called megakaryocytes that aids the body in clotting and is typically found in bone marrow, not brain cells. 

Additional recent studies from John Hopkins University, Harvard Medical School and a group of Chinese researchers have concluded that the most COVID-19 brain-related damage is mild, and leads to difficulties focusing and retaining information. 

What to Do if You Think You’re Experiencing COVID-19 Brain Fog

If you are experiencing brain fog that persists for more than a day or two, reach out to your doctor to share your symptoms and concerns. Make sure to note any additional neurological symptoms, such as tingling, numbness, weakness and continued loss of smell or taste. 

Your doctor may want to take additional tests or develop a cognitive rehabilitation plan for you if they believe you are suffering from covid-related brain fog. In the meantime, here are a few simple tips to combat mild to moderate brain fog and boost your cognitive function:

  • Get plenty of sleep – Your brain is able to recover during deep sleep cycles. 
  • Avoid alcohol – Alcohol slows your cognitive function and negatively affects your brain’s healing process. 
  • Exercise, if you can – While many people recovering from COVID-19 are unable to perform strenuous or aerobic activities, a 15-20 minute walk can still provide wonderful neurological benefits.

Eat healthy foods – Focus on eating a balanced diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, nuts and beans, and whole grains to improve memory and brain health. 

Resources:

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