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Signs Your COVID "Damaged" Your Brain

Doctors warn about these lingering symptoms.

From early in the pandemic, it was clear that COVID-19 was not just a respiratory virus but one that had far-reaching effects on a number of body systems, from the blood vessels to the brain. Although successive variants of the virus, like Delta and Omicron, seem to produce less severe initial illness, doctors report that even people whose symptoms were initially mild are reporting neurological symptoms that linger. These are some signs that COVID may have damaged your brain. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Brain Fog

Vertigo illness concept. Man hands on his head felling headache dizzy sense of spinning dizziness,a problem with the inner ear, brain, or sensory nerve pathway.

Difficulty concentrating or focusing, also known as "brain fog," is a common COVID-related symptom. Some people report not being able to focus on work or simple tasks, or have difficulties with their short-term memory or finding the right words. A new study, published January 19 in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, suggests that the coronavirus may produce antibodies that attack key proteins in the brain, causing those and other neurological symptoms.

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Taste or Smell Loss or Distortions

Sick woman trying to sense smell of half fresh orange, has symptoms of Covid-19, corona virus infection - loss of smell and taste

Loss of taste and smell was a hallmark COVID symptom in early waves of the pandemic. It has become less common with the emergence of the Delta and Omicron variants, but it still happens. And some people who lost taste or smell have yet to see it return. Some people have developed distortions of taste or smell months after contracting COVID, such as an inability to tolerate their own scent, or finding that food tastes so bad they can't stand to eat anything, the Guardian reported this week.

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Closeup side profile sick young woman having ear pain touching her painful head temple

A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Audiology found that nearly 15 percent of people with COVID-19 developed tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, frequently early in their illness. But some people develop changes to hearing that don't go away. "It is possible, although too early to understand fully, that COVID-19 is creating changes to the inner ear, auditory nerve, or auditory cortex in the brain that would be contributing to the tinnitus," audiologist Julie Prutsman, founder of the Sound Relief Hearing Center, told Healthline this week.

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A condition called POTS, or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, may develop with COVID-19 and can last long after the virus has cleared the body. It causes a rapid increase in heart rate and blood pressure upon standing, which can result in a racing heartbeat, dizziness or fainting. 

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Depression or Anxiety

Depressed woman with head in hands

Some people who've had COVID report developing mood disorders like depression or anxiety.  A study published in The Lancet reviewed medical data of 69 million people and found that COVID-19 increased the risk of developing a psychiatric disorder, dementia, or insomnia. The pandemic has been depressing and scary—and mood issues may be exacerbated by the physical and mental stress associated with Long COVID. 

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Premature Aging

woman with headache in front of a bathroom mirror

According to one study, some people who've had COVID-19 might have long-term "cognitive deficits" comparable to the brain aging by 10 years. Researchers at Imperial College London looked at more than 84,000 people who had recovered from COVID-19. Study subjects took tests that measured spatial memory, attention, ability to solve problems, and how they processed emotions. When their results were compared to those of a control group that hadn't been sick, the COVID patients performed worse. People who had been placed on a ventilator at some point during their illness had cognitive decline equivalent, on average, to a person 10 years older. (Although cognitive decline was especially severe in people who'd had more serious COVID issues, it was evident in mild cases as well.)

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Woman with face mask getting vaccinated, coronavirus, covid-19 and vaccination concept.

Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael