The world has been dealing with COVID-19 for just over a year now, yet we still seem to learn more about this virus daily. It also affects everyone differently. Some who test positive are completely asymptomatic, while others have landed in the hospital and worse. Still, others have recovered from both mild and severe symptoms completely and with lasting effects. One of those lasting effects has been labeled post-COVID brain fog.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a viral infectious disease caused by a new-to-us coronavirus. The name comes from corona (CO) virus (VI) disease (D) 19 (first discovered in 2019). It's considered a respiratory infection with symptoms such as fever, dry cough, fatigue, body aches, headache, sore throat, diarrhea, nausea, pink eye, and a loss of taste or smell. Severe symptoms include chest pressure or pain, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, and loss of movement or speech. It takes an average of five to six days to develop symptoms after exposure, and you remain contagious for up to 14 days.
What Is COVID Brain Fog?
Brain fog is not a medical term, but it's used by many to define symptoms that affect the brain processes. Symptoms of general brain fog include difficulty with word retrieval, slower thinking processes, loss of memory, becoming easily confused, difficulty concentrating, and becoming distracted easily.
Several people who have contracted COVID-19 and recovered fully still complain of a lasting side effect known as post-COVID brain fog. Symptoms of this type of brain fog include trouble finding words, becoming overwhelmed by simple tasks, difficulty paying attention or concentrating, and short-term memory loss. Even though many of these people experiencing post-COVID brain fog did not have seizures, stroke, or infection of the brain while infected with COVID-19, they are still experiencing this cognitive disturbance.
How Does COVID-19 Affect the Body?
Studies indicate that COVID-19 may affect the brain, even when symptoms are mild. These effects can be severe such as stroke, encephalitis, and lack of oxygen or mild as in the impairment in sustained attention. Many of the people experiencing post-COVID brain fog are also experiencing other lasting effects of their COVID-19 infection. These people have been labeled “long haulers” and can experience prolonged headaches, difficulty sleeping, body aches, fatigue, and inability to exercise. Experts believe that this may be due to permanent damage to their kidneys, lungs, heart, and other organs due to COVID-19.
Symptoms of organ damage and organ damage itself can affect the brain's ability to think and remember things, perhaps causing this post-COVID brain fog. Those who struggle with sleep may have difficulty concentrating because they were up all night. Others who experience body aches may feel fatigued from dealing with the aches and pains all day. Some data suggests the COVID-19 virus may be neuro-invasive, suggesting that the virus can invade the brain and nearby nerves, causing damage. It's unclear what exactly is causing the post-COVID brain fog, and more studies are needed to identify the underlying cause.
What Can You Do if You're Experiencing Post-COVID Brain Fog?
First and foremost, you should talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about the symptoms you're experiencing and how they affect your daily life and activities. Including brain fog, fatigue, any aches or pains, continued loss of taste or smell, and any other changes you've noticed since recovering from COVID-19. Document when the symptoms started, the severity of symptoms, if you notice symptoms are better or worse at times in your day, and any other information that would be important to add.
Several activities and a healthier lifestyle are known to help everyone's memory and thinking that those experiencing post-COVID brain fog can try, including:
- Participate in social activities. Participating in social activities can improve your mood as well as your memory and thinking processes.
- Avoid drugs, smoking, and alcohol. Drugs, smoking, and alcohol can both affect the brain adversely, so avoiding them gives your brain the best opportunity to heal.
- Exercise. Aerobic exercise gets the blood pumping and promotes brain health. You may need to work up to this slowly or limit the amount of exercise you get due to other long-hauler effects, but any exercise is beneficial. Ideally, five days a week of 30 minutes or more is suggested.
- Get some sleep. Your body heals when it's sleeping. It's also a time when your brain and body clear out toxins, so make sure you're getting enough sleep.
- Change your diet. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, and beans have improved overall brain health, including thinking and memory processes.
- Use cognitive apps and games. Games and smartphone apps that challenge your brain may also help in the healing process. The idea behind this is the more you use it, the better it will get.
- Engage in other activities. Any activity that is engaging or cognitively stimulating will help improve your brain health — reading, meditating, listening to music, and having a positive outlook can impact mental processes.
Who Experiences Post-COVID Brain Fog?
There's no way to determine who will or will not experience the lasting effects of a COVID-19 infection. It's estimated that one-third of those infected make a complete recovery with zero lingering effects. Another one-third experience lingering symptoms that will improve with time and therapy. The final one-third may have permanent damage due to their COVID-19 infection.
Experts are still studying the virus, symptoms, and long-lasting effects of COVID-19, so it's impossible to state the permanency of long-hauler symptoms. However, it's believed that if someone is expected to improve, they will do so within three to six months. If they haven't recovered after six to 12 months, it's believed the damage will be permanent.
It's also challenging to determine how severe the post-COVID brain fog will be for individuals. While a healthy, younger person has higher brain reserves and may help the brain recover quicker, it's no guarantee that their post-COVID brain fog will be less severe or improve faster.
If you're interested in learning more about the biostation and its distinctly personalized approach to healthcare, contact us online. A knowledgeable member of our team would be happy to answer any questions you may have.