Long COVID is a collection of ongoing symptoms that can last weeks, months, or even years after having COVID-19. Brain fog is one of the many potential symptoms of long COVID.
If you or a loved one is experiencing brain fog due to long COVID, you may be wondering when or if this symptom will eventually ease. This is a question that doctors and scientists continue to study intensely.
In this article, we’ll explain what long COVID brain fog is and how long it might last. We’ll also cover tips on managing your symptoms and when to seek care.
Brain fog is one of several possible symptoms of long COVID. While “brain fog” isn’t a medical term, it’s a phrase that’s used to refer to various symptoms that affect cognition and memory, including:
- thoughts that can be described as sluggish or fuzzy
- problems with concentration and paying attention
- difficulty with decision making or planning
- trouble with memory
- mental fatigue
Researchers estimate that worldwide, 43 percent of people who have had COVID-19 experience some form of long COVID. They also found that trouble with memory — a feature of brain fog — was the second most commonly reported symptom of long COVID after fatigue.
The exact cause of brain fog after COVID-19 is unknown. One theory is that high levels of inflammation or immune activity in response to COVID-19 impact the brain. But additional research is needed.
Since COVID-19 has been around for a couple of years, researchers are getting a better idea of the long-term effects of the illness. But it’s still unclear exactly how long symptoms like brain fog may last.
Here’s what some of the research says so far.
Brain fog peaks in the months after COVID-19 before gradually improving
Researchers found that 88 percent of respondents had problems with cognition or memory. The likelihood of having these symptoms increased in the first few months after COVID-19 symptoms developed and then began to decrease.
At the beginning of the 7th month after COVID-19 symptoms developed, 55.5 percent of respondents reported cognitive issues. Also, 50.5 percent still reported problems with memory.
A 2021 study asked individuals with brain fog due to long COVID to describe their experience. Like the study above, most participants reported that brain fog emerged in the first few months after developing COVID-19 symptoms.
Researchers followed up with participants by email 4 to 6 months after their initial evaluation. Of those who responded to the follow-up, 65 percent felt like their brain fog symptoms were gradually improving.
Brain fog symptoms may still linger for months
After an initial evaluation, researchers followed up with participants over 6 to 9 months. At follow-up, no significant change was seen in brain fog reporting compared with the initial evaluation.
Despite this, participants did feel as if their cognitive function was improving. But the researchers still noted that quality of life measures in the study participants remained lower than those of the general population.
According to research, brain fog tends to peak in the months after having COVID-19 and usually begins to improve over time.
But it’s still possible for brain fog symptoms to linger for many months. More recent studies have found that brain fog symptoms can continue for over a year after having COVID-19.
There’s no one tried and true way to reduce brain fog symptoms after COVID-19. Still, trying out some of the tips below may help:
- Plan your days: It may be helpful to set up a daily routine and set goals for what you’d like to accomplish each day.
- Pace yourself: Try to avoid pushing yourself too hard. Don’t be afraid to take breaks if you’re feeling exhausted or overwhelmed.
- Be active: Exercise is good for your overall health. It can lift your mood, benefit brain health, and reduce stress. Try to engage in regular physical activity most days of the week.
- Get enough sleep: Poor sleep can negatively impact your health. Try to set up a consistent sleep schedule and make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature.
- Eat a balanced diet: Try to eat a balanced diet. Because inflammation may play a role in brain fog, consider adding more anti-inflammatory foods like tomatoes, broccoli, and fatty fish to your diet.
- Lower stress: Long COVID symptoms can be stressful. Consider stress management techniques such as breathing exercises, meditative walking, guided imagery, yoga, or even a hobby you enjoy.
- Stay connected: Social connectedness is important, so take time to hang out with family and friends. Joining a support group for people with long COVID may also help you connect with others with similar issues.
Coping with brain fog can be challenging, but patience is important. You may need to try different combinations of strategies before finding one that best helps manage your symptoms.
Many people with brain fog due to long COVID find that their symptoms slowly improve as time passes. But there are some signs that it may be time to talk with a doctor about your brain fog.
Follow up with your doctor if your symptoms are:
- getting worse
- becoming concerning or causing you notable distress
- interfering with your daily life in a significant way
We’re still learning how to effectively treat brain fog due to long COVID. But your doctor can work with you to develop strategies that help you better manage your symptoms.
POST-COVID CARE CENTERS (PCCC)
If you have brain fog or other long COVID symptoms, there are specialty clinics, known as Post-Covid Care Centers (PCCC), that provide care to address the issues of COVID-19 recovery.
The PCCC’s website provides a map with clinic locations throughout the United States and in many other countries, too.
Brain fog is a common symptom of long COVID. While it can gradually improve as time passes, it’s possible to still experience symptoms of brain fog months or years after having COVID-19.
If you have brain fog, strategies like pacing yourself, getting regular exercise, managing stress, and getting enough sleep may help manage symptoms. Be sure to see your doctor if your brain fog worsens or becomes disruptive to your daily life.