COVID-19 has already made its way through 26 million Americans. While most people have experienced mild cases, even some with no symptoms at all, there is a small group of people who are experiencing long-term effects. This doesn’t include the few cases that have lasted a few weeks over the typical two-week span of COVID-19. These people are dealing with repercussions months after being exposed, coining them the name “COVID-19 long-haulers”. There is not a defined population this outcome affects; there are reports of both young and old, healthy and immunocompromised individuals that fall into this category. The question now becomes, how can these people find relief?
COVID-19 long-haulers experience COVID-19 symptoms long after they have gotten over the initial illness and are even testing negative for COVID-19 weeks to months later. Some symptoms are typical COVID-19 symptoms, including:
- Cough and shortness of breath
- Head and body aches
However, these long-haulers are not just experiencing the classic coronavirus respiratory symptoms, but also neurological deficits. Many long-haulers have reported suffering from mental illness post-COVID, mainly anxiety and depression. Of course, several months of lockdowns and working from home play a role in this rise of mental illness, as general isolation does to humans, but for a COVID-19 long-haulers it is much more severe.
Brain fog is another big symptom experienced by long-haulers. A symptom that is very hard to explain, but definitely has a large impact on day-to-day life. Brain fog is just that; a foggy brain. It is hard to concentrate, remember the small tasks you are trying to complete, difficult to form a thought or sentence without really having to think, etc. It makes life very challenging for individuals who experience it. There are several causes of brain fog such as poor diet or not enough sleep, but now COVID-19 has added itself to the list.
Another big long-hauler symptom is also a notorious active COVID-19 symptom; loss of smell and taste. While sometimes this can be caused by congestion, our smell and taste are controlled by our nervous system. Long-haulers have reported not having the ability to smell or taste for months after being exposed to COVID-19. This leads us to believe the cause is neurological, not respiratory.
All of these things sound very intimidating, but this post-COVID syndrome is no lost cause. Our brain has the incredible ability to make changes, even when the wiring of neurons becomes messed up. This is a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Functional neurology is the practice of implementing neuroplasticity. We use exercises and equipment that essentially exercise the brain to help create these new pathways after our brain has gone through trauma, whether it be physical, emotional, chemical, or infectious. In the case of these COVID-19 long-haulers, the impact on the brain is viral (a type of infection). Viruses can have effects on the brain, even if the virus itself displays itself in another part of the body, like in the respiratory system in COVID-19. This explains why these people are experiencing things like headache, dizziness, and brain fog during and after being infected with COVID-19. As functional neurologists, we see plenty of patients with these symptoms on a daily basis. We know firsthand that these symptoms can be improved, and the brain can heal itself from these types of trauma.
The brain needs three things to make changes: glucose, oxygen, and activation. Glucose is sugar and a source of fuel for the brain. There are obviously good and bad sugars, but the right sugar in the right amount is good brain food. Oxygen is another fuel for the brain. Like all our organs, our brain needs oxygen from our blood to function. Trauma of any kind to our nervous system can cause less oxygen to get to our brain. Supplementing more oxygen can be very helpful. Finally, activation creates neuroplasticity or changes in the brain. Activation is simply using our brain! Whether it be through cognitive tasks like memory games or word searches, or eye exercises like following a moving target, making the brain do work essentially exercises the brain and creates new pathways.
At our offices, we utilize many different techniques and state of the art equipment to exercise the brain and promote neuroplasticity. On top of basic neurological rehabilitation through eye exercises and vestibular training, we also use hyperbaric oxygen therapy, chiropractic adjustments, nutritional advice, supplementation, and more to help our patients obtain optimal brain function. All these tools are incredibly helpful to those suffering from post-COVID syndrome. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases patients’ oxygen intake by 300%, allowing oxygen to move directly into their plasma. This is important for fighting off lingering infections because diseases thrive in an anaerobic (oxygen lacking) environment. By increasing the oxygen in our plasma, our bodies become aerobic (oxygen inhabiting) making it very difficult for disease to thrive. Chiropractic adjustments have been proved to boost immune function for over a century! Our skull and spine house our entire nervous system, which is in very close communication with our immune system (if not controls it!). The immune system tells the nervous system when a foreign invader is in the body, then the nervous system tells the immune system to respond to the invader by releasing immune cells and antibodies to fight it off. The chiropractic adjustment essentially removes interference in this communication between the immune and nervous systems and actually increases the power of the immune response! Finally, nutrition and supplementation play an obvious role in our immune health. Giving our bodies the right fuel it needs to thrive is one of the most basic ways to avoid or fight off disease.
We have seen many post-COVID patients in our offices with a variety of “long-hauler” symptoms, and we are happy to see them getting better with every treatment. COVID-19 has taken its toll on the world, and many are continuing to suffer from its long-term effects. Luckily, there are options to work towards regaining a healthy, happy life.