The Cognitive Toll of Tinnitus: The Brain Fog Connection


While tinnitus is a condition in and of itself, it is frequently accompanied or caused by other conditions, many of which do not initially seem to be related. Changes in hearing, vestibular disorders, and trauma are some of the most commonly known causes of tinnitus, so many people do not think to link tinnitus and mental acuity. Are brain fog and tinnitus actually related? We’re diving deep into the origins of brain fog and how it may (or may not) relate to ringing in the ears.

What Is Brain Fog?

The term “brain fog” is used to refer to a variety of cognitive difficulties. Recent research has focused on identifying the experiences of individuals reporting brain fog symptoms. These individuals report cognitive symptoms such as forgetfulness or memory issues, difficulty concentrating, cognitive “slowness,” communication difficulties, feelings of “fuzziness,” and fatigue. Although brain fog isn’t considered a true medical term, many individuals recognize and understand the concept as something interfering with the thinking process.

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Brain fog is usually a condition that is described alone, though it has been accepted into the lexicon of many medical professionals searching for a diagnosis. Many mental disorders and neurological conditions, for instance, have identified brain fog as a possible symptom, as have some vestibular disorders and even Meniere’s Disease and other conditions involving dizziness. Brain fog is so named for the quality of being “foggy” or feeling as though there is an inability to carry out cognitive function properly.

What Causes Brain Fog?

Fluorescent brain

When asked what caused their brain fog symptoms, many individuals report feeling their symptoms begin after a specific diagnosis or experience with a disorder, while others link it to stress or poor sleep. Although brain fog can signal something fairly innocuous or easy to treat, cognitive impairment is never something to take lightly. All cognitive changes and neurological symptoms should be looked into relatively quickly by a medical provider to make sure something more significant is not at play–especially if it is accompanied by concerns such as blurred vision, slurred speech, or other sudden and alarming changes.

For many, brain fog followed a COVID-19 infection. In fact, brain fog is reported to be one of the top three symptoms or conditions reported by many after COVID-19 (particularly “long COVID” patients), and researchers think it may be due to inflammation in the brain.

Many pregnant women report experiencing similar symptoms. In this case, their perceived impairments in cognitive function, mental fatigue, and other symptoms are referred to as “mommy brain.” It is well known that pregnancy places significant demands on a person’s cognitive, mental, and physical abilities. If brain fog is tied to pregnancy or childbirth, many consider it an expected product of these experiences rather than a significant source of concern. Nevertheless, any changes to the body and brain during these times warrants a mention to a healthcare provider.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is another disorder that has been linked to brain fog. Individuals with CFS experience physical and mental symptoms, with the mental drain often being referred to as brain fog. Cognitive impairment is also frequently reported, as have symptoms involving the central nervous system. CFS brain fog can be more significant, and may even qualify as cognitive dysfunction.

Individuals with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) may experience brain fog as a symptom, which is thought to be attributed to blood flow issues that may result in limitations related to cognitive function. Essentially, those with POTS do not have enough blood flow to consistently experience healthy and optimized brain function.

Finally, some individuals link their brain fog symptoms to medication use (for example, certain medications such as antidepressants, recreational drugs, alcohol, and chemotherapy agents). In fact, so-called “chemo brain” is reported by many who are receiving treatment for cancer. In this case, it may be possible to seek another treatment avenue for the medical condition being treated, including simply changing to a new medication.

Treatments for Brain Fog

Two woman speaking to each other across a table

There are a variety of treatment options available for brain fog. Generally, the goal is to reduce neuroinflammation. However, as each individual patient may experience differing symptoms, a personalized approach is likely to be best. Some individuals may benefit from certain medications (for example, NSAIDs or dopamine reuptake inhibitors) or treatments such as ketamine or electroconvulsive therapy. Treatment options also include cognitive treatments such as psychotherapy, cognitive retraining, and learning methods for recall. Employing overall healthy habits (e.g., increasing exercise, healthy diet, and managing stress levels) may also be beneficial. Please consult your physician if you are experiencing brain fog in order to determine the most appropriate treatment option for you.

If all of the interventions listed above have been utilized, or none are appropriate for your situation, it is also possible to work alongside brain fog and find ways to support yourself through the symptoms. Memory exercises can help essentially “strengthen” your memory, while brain teasers, taking more frequent breaks, and utilizing strategies to manage the effects of dysfunction can all help minimize the negative aspects of this condition.

Does Tinnitus Cause Brain Fog?

When trying to determine if tinnitus can impact cognitive function, there are several studies to review. Recent research indicates that tinnitus can negatively impact attention, memory, processing speed, executive function, and general learning and retrieval. Another study reported that individuals with tinnitus expend greater listening effort than those without tinnitus. Although more research in this area is needed in order to fully understand the impacts of tinnitus on cognitive abilities, many individuals have reported that their tinnitus can impact their thinking ability, leading to the perception of brain fog.

Further research in this area is vital, as tinnitus can cause stress levels to skyrocket, and can even affect getting quality sleep. Over an extended period, stress and poor sleep can lead to the development of cognitive impairment, and can eventually lead to anxiety, more persistent sleep issues, and even hits to the immune system. Rather than simply acting as a ringing in the ears, tinnitus can actually be a very difficult condition to work with, and it is not uncommon to see a comorbid condition of anxiety, sleep disorders, depression, and other disorders and conditions.

How Cognition And Tinnitus Are Linked

Although having trouble with persistent phantom sounds may not initially seem to affect cognitive function, research has persistently indicated that that is the case. Apart from depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns, many people with tinnitus have trouble focusing or diverting attention away from the sudden onset of ringing, roaring, and other noise associated with the condition. That difficulty could come from being tired due to lack of quality sleep, or simply being distracted, but that may not be the true root in most cases; one study found that actual brain activity was different in those with tinnitus, and had ties to impaired cognitive function.

This is an important discovery, because it means that addressing the head, ear, and any other areas of focus that could help with tinnitus could also improve brain function, help with insomnia, and more.

Brain Fog And Tinnitus Treatment

Hand holding a hearing aid

Treating either one of these conditions requires a multivariate approach; because tinnitus does not always have a single root cause, and brain fog does not typically have a single, easily pinpointed origin. Therefore, treatment is highly individualized. Some of the common tinnitus treatments include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a treatment option to help optimize mental health and manage any conditions that may arise when a person has tinnitus. CBT seeks to reframe the words you use and the attitudes you have about your tinnitus, in order to remove attention from the sensation and improve quality of life.
  • Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is designed to take the focus off of tinnitus, in order to maximize health and even limit the reach of depression and anxiety related to ringing. An audiologist can typically perform or refer out for this particular type of intervention.
  • Hearing aids. Hearing aids do not only help with hearing loss; instead, hearing aids can help maximize the noise going on around someone with tinnitus, effectively minimizing the rest of the noises they may be hearing internally.
  • Medicine. Some medications can be used to manage symptoms of tinnitus, though this is usually only the case in instances with tinnitus as a secondary condition rather than a primary one. Medication can also be helpful if the ear has a bacterial or viral infection at the root of the issue.


While they may not initially seem to be related, hearing and feeling foggy can absolutely be connected. Our senses are relied upon heavily, and any issue with once sense can make existing issues worse or trigger a whole slew of additional concerns. When tinnitus is present, a doctor may also find that the person in question experiences periods of being forgetful, not feeling fully present in their head or body, and having trouble sleeping. By getting to the heart of tinnitus, including any triggers to bring on a spike in ringing and hearing changes, some patients may experience changes to brain fog, including being able to concentrate better or focus, even if they were recently unable to. To tackle brain fog alongside tinnitus, speak to an audiologist today, and take back your cognitive function.

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