COVID-19 long-hauler symptoms: What ‘brain fog’ means

Jim Eggleston said that while his bloodwork is all good, something still feels off physically and mentally.

DALLAS — “Long COVID” affects up to a third of people infected by coronavirus. 

One common complaint from long haulers is chronic fatigue and lingering brain fog.

“I just tried to fight through it, and there wasn’t any fighting through it,” said Jim Eggleston, 69, who is learning to listen to his body.

Eggleston has Type 2 diabetes. In the last two years, he has been diligent about nutrition and exercise, which has helped him to lose 38 pounds. 

His heart, lung and kidney function are all intact, he said, according to his doctors.

“Up until January, I was feeling fantastic,” Eggleston said.

But January was when Jim tested positive for COVID19. 

“My daughter came home,” he said. “She wasn’t feeling good and of course we talked face to face. Two days later, she tested positive, then I did.”

Eggleston is vaccinated and boosted, so, fortunately, his illness was mild, and recovery came quickly. 

“But after that, my muscles started tightening up and my legs felt like they weighed 200 pounds each,” Eggleston said. “I went from walking 10 miles a day down to just … I can’t hardly walk a half a mile.”

Eggleston said that while his bloodwork is all good, something still feels off physically and mentally. He grasps for words and doesn’t feel clear or alert like he used to.  

“When you know you’re healthy and you still don’t feel good it scares you,” he said.

Fatigue, brain fog and post-exertional malaise are common long-hauler symptoms “and really the most disabling part for most people,” said Dr. Michael Brode, assistant professor in Dell Medical’s Department of Internal Medicine and an expert in the clinical care of COVID long haulers.

Post-exertional malaise is when an activity that shouldn’t be tiring wears you out and makes you feel sick and achy. 

“Out of proportion to the activity they performed,” said Brode, who added that mental exertion for long haulers like Eggleston can be just as draining as physical exercise.  

“As if physical and mental cognitive exertion are pulling from the same battery,” Brode said. 

“I just want to walk 200 yards and feel fine,” Eggleston said. “But that’s not working right now.” 

While there’s no specific treatment for chronic fatigue or brain fog, doctors do recommend resting when your body needs it. 

“Pushing through or the strategy of, ‘I’m just going to try harder … actually makes people feel worse,” Brode said.

Researchers at The University of Texas have said that the worse your fatigue, the worse your cognitive symptoms. 

They note that mental exercises may help with brain fog. 

Medication may be the next step to reduce inflammation in the brain and spinal cord and, in turn, help with mood, energy and nerve pain. 

“It’s not getting worse,” Eggleston said. “It’s just staying the same.” 

With patience and rest, Eggleston knows he’ll get back to those long walks and to feeling like himself again. 

“Mentally, it’s starting to get me down, but I fight it every day and I don’t give up. I’ll get back,” Eggleston said.