TL;DR: Brain fog is a catch all term that could mean confusion, difficulty thinking, trouble concentrating, memory problems, mental fatigue, or straight up feeling mentally “fuzzy.”
Brain fog after COVID-19 infection is common and can be mild to debilitating. We don’t yet know how to treat this, but there are some things you can do that may help.
Brain fog isn’t a specific medical term and is used by many to describe cognitive impairments (changes in thinking and mental function) after illness, injury, or with some medications. Brain fog can refer to a whole host of symptoms, including confusion, slow thinking, difficulty with concentration or focus, memory problems, trouble finding the right words, and getting tired easily when thinking. Brain fog is one of the most common manifestations of Long COVID and can occur in up to 1/3 of all people who got infected with COVID-19 (yikes!).
We still don’t know why brain fog occurs after COVID-19 infections. A small recent study suggests that inflammation may be playing a role (You can read about the study here.) and lots of research is underway to answer this important question.
We also don’t yet know the best way to treat brain fog, but it does appear to get better for most people. Below are some things that you can try if you or a loved one has brain fog. These techniques have helped other causes of cognitive impairment, like traumatic brain injury and stroke.
😴 Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can mimic brain fog and make any of the brain fog symptoms worse.
🍎 Eat a nutritious diet. Make sure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs to do its job! Skipping meals and hunger may make you feel worse.
🥛 Stay hydrated and drink enough water.
💪 Exercise. This may take some time to get back into. Taking it slow and gradually working up to your normal level of exercise tolerance is a good idea.
⏰ Do your hardest cognitive tasks when you feel best. For example, if your brain fog is better in the morning, try to schedule your toughest brain activities during the morning and rest that noggin in the afternoon.
🧘♀️ Take breaks. If you find yourself fatiguing, take a “cognitive rest” and let your brain take a breather.
❤️ Take time for you. Do stuff you love with people you love.
🚫 Avoid substances that impact your ability to think, like alcohol. Alcohol may make your symptoms worse.
🗒 Write yourself notes or to do lists so you don’t forget those important, do-not-miss tasks in your life.
👏 Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Brain fog is real and can significantly impact your life and wellbeing. Let others know how you are doing and if you need any help.
🧠 For those more severe cases, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and cognitive rehabilitation (like physical therapy for the brain!) may be helpful.
Talk to your primary care clinician and tell them about your symptoms. They can help make suggestions about what you can do to manage your symptoms. They may also want to get additional lab or imaging tests to rule out other possible causes or make referrals to other help if needed.
Of course, the best way to avoid brain fog from Long COVID is to prevent getting infected in the first place! Make sure you are up to date on your vaccines and take precautions to prevent infection.
Stay Safe. Stay Sane.
Those Nerdy Girls
CDC Interim Guidance on Management of Long COVID symptoms
Everyday Health Article on Brain Fog
Scotland’s National Health Service Inform article on Brain Fog in Long COVID