Sinusitis

25 July 2017

6 ways sinusitis can cause a mysterious 'brain fog'

As if the physical discomfort of chronic sinusitis isn't enough, it also affects your concentration and mental clarity. Find out how this happens.

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There's pounding pressure behind your eyes, you struggle to breathe properly and your head feels thick and heavy. You've got sinusitis again, and you're struggling to concentrate at work...

Have you ever wondered how sinusitis is linked to "brain fog"?

Sinusitis is the inflammation of the tissues lining the sinuses. The inflammation can present with or without infection and affects the mucous membranes in the sinus cavities of the nose, behind the eyes and in the forehead.

Chronic sinusitis typically lasts longer than three months and is usually caused by allergies or sensitivity to an environment where there is dust and/or pollen. Chronic sinusitis can also be caused by a physical block in the nasal cavities as result of a deviated septum or a tumour. Nasal polyps can also develop.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Thick nasal mucus
  • Bad-tasting post-nasal drip
  • A congested nose
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Facial pain around the eyes, particularly across the nose and forehead
  • Headache
  • Facial swelling
  • Neck pain
  • Fever
  • Cough

Why does my head feel foggy?

Brain fog is a term used to describe a lack of cognition, inability to concentrate and multitask, as well as loss of short and long term memory. Apart from these unwelcome symptoms, there are other links between your sinusitis and brain fog:

1. A lack of oxygen
Since you are breathing through your mouth, the air is not properly filtered, which compromises your breathing. Your brain is simply not getting enough oxygen, which leads to a lack of concentration. Target your congested nose and focus on your breathing throughout the day.

sinusitis, lack of concentration

2. Your medication

Medication is a common way of counteracting sinus symptoms, but some ingredients can impair our mental clarity. Some common over-the-counter medications contain antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine, which can cause drowsiness. Other ingredients such as pseudoephedrine, can however cause restlessness and keep us awake at night, which can affect concentration the next day. If your current medication is affecting your mental clarity, talk to your pharmacist or doctor about other alternatives.

sinusitis

3. Inflammation

Sinusitis involves inflammation, which means that your body goes into fighting mode and has to work harder than usual, explaining why your mental clarity isn't what it should be. A clear link between chronic inflammation and the presence of brain fog is reported in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

sinusitis and brain fog

4. Brain infection

Before you start panicking, keep in mind that chronic sinusitis will only rarely cause brain infection (bacterial meningitis). If your your brain fog and lack of concentration becomes really severe, it is best to see your doctor to rule out a more serious infection.   

5. Lack of sleep

If your sinusitis symptoms keep you from getting a decent night's sleep, your mental clarity will be compromised. An article published in the Forum of Allergy and Rhinology investigated the effect of chronic sinusitis on sleep and found that that the daily activities of many patients were negatively affected by a change in sleeping patterns. Ensure a restful night by avoiding medications containing pseudoephedrine late in the afternoon or in the evening.

6. Allergic conditions

If your chronic sinusitis is allergy-related, the histamines or mast cell orders in the brain will cause a lack of mental clarity and make your mind feel foggy. The link between histamines and brain fog was first established in 1986 and published in the journal Psychosomatic MedicineOne way to clear up the histamines caused by the underlying allergy is to take antihistamines. If you however find that they make you drowsy, try natural histamines.

Read more:

Possible immunologic basis for chronic sinusitis

Sneezing, the body's natural reboot

Types of sinus

 

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Sinusitis Expert

Dr Gary Kroukamp MBCHB, FCORL(SA) is an ENT Specialist, practising from rooms at Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont, Cape Town. He also has a teaching sessional appointment as an ENT Consultant at the Tygerberg Hospital. He is a member of the ENT Society of South Africa and the South African Cochlear Implantation Group. His interests in the ENT field include sinusitis and sinus surgery, nasal allergy and ENT conditions in children.

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