Can a cold cause confusion?
November 6, 2009 6:17 PM   Subscribe

Can allergies or a cold cause confusion?

You're not my doctor, obviously, but here goes:

I've been sick for the past 4-5 days with a mild cold. I haven't had a fever, and have been getting plenty of rest. Right now my only symptoms are some nasal pressure, post-nasal drip, a headache, and some sneezing. The only thing I can think of that I've been doing wrong is that I haven't been focused on drinking a ton of fluids.

For the past 3-4 days I've had recurring episodes of what I can only call confusion, for lack of a better word. I feel slightly disoriented, light-headed, a little dizzy, and--this may sound silly--really really dumb. It feels as though my brain isn't working at full capacity and I'm unable to make decisions (although I still know who and where I am).

The first time this happened was at the supermarket with my boyfriend. On the way there I realized I'd suddenly become really grumpy for no apparent reason. Inside, I was anxious with other people, and really frustrated with myself for not being able to think clearly. Anytime my boyfriend would put his arm around me or try to comfort me it would drive me crazy. I would stare at an aisle of food and not be able to figure out what I needed to pick up. I basically felt like a really irratable zombie.

The past two days, I've had the same thing happen, but a little less severe. It's usually when I'm standing up, and usually accompanied by anxiety. It's strange, though, because I feel lethargic (not "anxious" in the typical sense of the word). It's more like I'm really frustrated that I can't think clearly.

I've written it off as being a symptom of the cold and told myself that it's normal to feel fuzzy-headed, but I can't find anything online about this. I have only taken half a Zyrtec twice for the nasal stuff. I don't have any chronic medical conditions that I know of (it's been a while since I've seen a doctor). I'm 25, female, and in relatively good health otherwise.

The only thing I can come up with is that I'm possibly anemic and this is the first I've noticed any symptoms. But it seems far more likely to be the result of my cold, considering they happened at the same time. Does anyone else get this way when they're sick? Is it normal? Should I be concerned?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
I've had a head cold for the last few days. Today some co-workers were talking about The Office and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. They asked if I watched, and I honestly couldn't remember, even though they are two of my favorite shows. After about 10 seconds, I remembered I did watch them, and liked them. But I don't remember anything about the episodes themselves.

And I've been dizzy.lightheaded for two days because my ears are clogged.

So yeah, a cold can mess with your head.
posted by sanka at 6:20 PM on November 6, 2009

You just described how I feel during every cold I've ever had. I forget what day it is, I have wicked weird dreams, and I wander into rooms in the house wondering what it is I went in there for. And I don't think there's anyone who doesn't feel irritable when they have a cold.

Are you running a fever? If yes, call up a clinic or your health insurer's nurse help line and see if you should go in. If not, get some fluids in and relax. If it starts to get worse or doesn't go away after a few days, and/or you're really that concerned about it, go to the doctor.

IANAD etc etc.
posted by SquidLips at 6:26 PM on November 6, 2009

Grogginess is one typical symptom of a cold or flu, so yes.

Many OTC cold and flu remedies can amplify this. There's not much difference between being on Benadryl and being stoned.
posted by rokusan at 6:37 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I always lose a good 20 IQ points during a bad cold. I blame it on nasal conjestion, which surely must radiate outward and affect my brain. This is without taking anything stronger than aspirin, so it's not the drugs.
posted by Savannah at 7:47 PM on November 6, 2009

This is what I'm like on zyrtec, if I haven't taken it in a while. I quit taking it for this reason (plus the depressive stuff it seemed to cause.)
posted by titanium_geek at 7:50 PM on November 6, 2009

IANAD, but - you're not drinking fluids, you could be dehydrated. Dehydration can cause all sorts of electrolyte imbalances, including potassium, which can make you feel pretty out of it (and can ultimately be pretty dangerous if allowed to continue).

If I were you, I'd up the fluids and have some potassium-rich foods (banana, avocado, orange juice, peaches, tomatoes are a few that come to mind).
posted by chez shoes at 8:45 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

My 2ยข, plus more than you asked for: (tl;dr alert)
Any inflammatory reaction, as in allergies or an upper respiratory virus, can cause "brain fog" and lethargy. And it's pretty common. (I'm sure many people with severe allergies will tell you about feeling tired all the time.) If your ear(s) is involved, it could make you feel a little dizzy. Inflamed and full sinuses can definitely make your head feel weird and icky. (One of my friends describes it as feeling like she's under water.) Any of this can make one cranky as hell.

Ditto on what others have said about Zyrtec. Not the best choice for cold symptoms, IMO. More for longer-term use, for moderate to severe allergies. [Can someone else confirm or deny that one must take it for several days before it starts working?]

The anxiety and irritability I have a harder time explaining. I would see if it improves if you stop taking the zyrtec, which has a bunch of possible side effects. If you continue to have episodes like that, definitely talk to a doctor. It sounds really uncomfortable!

When I have a head cold or sinusitis/runny nose, I use Afrin to keep my nasal passages open. (If I go to hell when I die, it will be eternity with a plugged up nose.) In my long, long history of allergies, it's the only thing I've found that does exactly what it's supposed to, right now, and effectively. I only use it for two or three days, otherwise one can develop a "rebound" stuffiness when it wears off.

The other thing that helps a lot is nasal rinse. It's weird and takes some getting used to, but it really helps if you do it a couple of times a day. There are all kinds of products for this (google: neti pot) but I use a bottle with a special spout and pre-packaged salts that you mix with warm water. I think the company is Neil Meds, and I got mine at CVS for not much $$. Whichever method you choose, make sure everything is clean, clean, clean! Esp. the water. You don't want a bacterial infection on top of a cold.

I ain't your doc, I ain't anyone's doc. Take care of yourself.
posted by shifafa at 8:57 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

eh, go to a doctor, make sure there's nothing insidious going on. not to scare you, but a more serious thing could present itself as a cold to you. so get checked. if it's worrisome enough to ask strangers on the internet, it's worth a visit to a doctor.

it's probably nothing, but if you've never had this happen before, it's not a bad idea to get a professional opinion.
posted by thinkingwoman at 9:05 PM on November 6, 2009

This sounds normal to me. You might not be getting enough REM, even if you're getting enough sleep. I know when I'm sick, my sleep is pretty restless what with the coughing and congestion.

posted by cj_ at 9:47 PM on November 6, 2009

EXTREME lethargy, anxiety, mental fogginess, feeling depressed, not feeling "with it" - that's what happened to me when I tried Zyrtec! It lasted for 24 full, miserable hours after I took the pill. I never took it again.

I don't know if you've taken Zyrtec before, but if you haven't... perhaps it affects you the same way.
posted by Cygnet at 4:58 AM on November 7, 2009

For me, that weird cranky dull confusion is a warning sign of the beginnings of a sinus infection. YMMW.
posted by desuetude at 6:54 PM on November 8, 2009

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