Brain fog is a common symptom of COVID-19 that can last a few weeks to several months after recovery.

  • “Brain fog” describes feeling mentally off-balance or “foggy,” unable to focus, or having difficulty remembering things, among other symptoms.
  • Brain fog is a common symptom of COVID-19, affecting more than a quarter of those who’ve had it. It can last a few weeks to several months after recovery.
  • There’s no formal treatment for COVID-19 related brain fog, but healthy lifestyle choices could help lessen its effects.

We often consider the physical effects of COVID-19, but it can also have a psychological impact.

Symptoms can include coughing and having difficulty breathing, but some symptoms can affect how you think.

Brain fog can make you feel out of sorts and have trouble focusing or remembering things. It’s a common symptom of COVID-19, most often experienced by those who develop long COVID.

The effects of brain fog can last for weeks or even months. But this symptom can be managed, and you can find ways to cope.

Brain fog isn’t an official medical diagnosis, making it tricky to describe.

Generally speaking, brain fog is when you can’t think clearly or experience memory problems. Some compare it to feeling mentally “off” or seeming “spaced out” and unable to concentrate.

Most of us have experienced brain fog on some level, often during times of great stress or when we’re not eating or sleeping well.

Symptoms could include:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • lack of focus or clarity
  • feeling mentally slow or fuzzy
  • confusion
  • memory issues
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • fatigue

Brain fog often resolves itself in hours or days, depending on what causes it and the symptoms you’re experiencing. Sleeping well after a restless night or adopting healthy eating habits could help clear the fog.

But for those experiencing COVID-19 related brain fog, symptoms may come on suddenly and may not go away as easily.

A 2021 study found that up to 25% of people who had COVID-19 reported experiencing dizziness, headache, and disorientation or confusion. This was common in people with severe cases of COVID-19.

In another 2021 study, approximately 7.2% of people with long COVID reported they experienced brain fog and other chronic symptoms such as fatigue and an inability to tolerate exercise for long periods.

While brain fog is a common symptom of COVID-19 (particularly long COVID), the reasons behind its cause are unclear.

Researchers believe that specific physical and psychological factors associated with COVID-19 might indirectly contribute to brain fog, such as:

  • respiratory, neurological, or gastrointestinal problems at the onset of infection
  • preexisting chronic medical issues
  • previous intensive care unit (ICU) admissions
  • being female

Though research is ongoing, experts have examined several ways COVID-19 might affect the brain.

  • A 2021 study linked COVID-19 to inflammation in the brain, caused by an increased level of cytokines in the brain fluid of recovered patients. Cytokines are molecules that promote inflammation, which can lead to neurological damage over time. They can also limit your ability to concentrate and communicate, and might contribute to potential brain fog.
  • Other research suggests that COVID-19 might alter specific areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus and the cingulate cortex. These changes could lead to brain fog and impact your ability to think.
  • A 2020 study linked COVID-19 to various other impairments, including altered states of consciousness such as confusion and delirium. These could lead to milder symptoms such as headaches to more severe complications such as seizures and strokes.

COVID-19 isn’t the only contributor to cognitive impairment. Several other factors could also cause brain fog, including:

The duration of brain fog varies. For some people, symptoms might fade shortly after recovering from COVID-19. For others, they can continue for far longer.

Brain fog is often associated with long COVID syndrome. Studies suggest its effects can last for weeks or even months after recovering from COVID-19.

A 2021 study found that the length of long COVID-related brain fog might depend on the severity of a person’s COVID-19 symptoms. Mild cases saw brain fog symptoms lasting around 2 weeks after recovery, while more critical cases saw symptoms beyond 6 weeks.

In a 2020 study, 55% of people who recovered from COVID-19 reported neurological symptoms lasting 3 months post-infection. Another larger 2021 study found that symptoms continued for an average of 7.6 months.

A 2020 study examined lingering symptoms in people hospitalized for COVID-19 100 days after they were discharged. Approximately 28% of them reported having trouble concentrating, and 34% reported problems with memory.

There’s no treatment for COVID-induced brain fog, but there are steps to help you cope.

Before making changes, consider speaking with a healthcare professional to rule out other potential causes. If your brain fog is being brought on by something other than COVID-19, a doctor can work with you to find the proper treatment plan.

Living with COVID-19 related brain fog can be challenging and overwhelming, but you can improve your symptoms by making a few simple changes. Consider trying these strategies to improve your brain fog:

  • eating a well-balanced diet
  • exercising regularly
  • getting enough quality sleep
  • staying mentally active
  • reducing caffeine intake
  • limiting or eliminating alcohol use
  • avoiding tobacco
  • practice meditation or mindfulness

Adopting a healthy lifestyle can contribute to better wellness overall. A 2021 study suggests that establishing healthy habits could reduce your chance of having brain fog and other cognitive symptoms if you develop COVID-19.

Brain fog is a common symptom of COVID-19 and can last for several weeks or even months after recovery. It can cause difficulty concentrating, memory issues, and a sense of mental sluggishness.

Researchers don’t know exactly why COVID-19 causes brain fog, but they have studied how the coronavirus affects the brain. They’ve discovered that COVID-19 could potentially create inflammation or alter specific areas of the brain, leading to potential cognitive issues.

Though there isn’t a formal treatment for COVID-19 related brain fog, there are steps you can take to cope with its effects. Making healthy choices — such as eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep — can all help keep your cognitive functions as sharp as possible when experiencing periods of fogginess.

If you’re unsure how to manage your symptoms or they start to impact your daily life, consider speaking with a healthcare or mental health professional. They can help you determine the exact cause behind your brain fog and work with you to develop strategies for managing your symptoms.