How Fevers and Colds Impact Cognition

During the winter, many people suffer from colds and the symptoms that come with them: congestion, coughing, and body aches. While many people feel physically ill, they do not realize that colds can also have an impact on the brain as well. Because of this, researchers are interested in examining the cognitive impacts of catching a cold.

How do colds impact cognition?

A research study (Smith et al (2012) looked deeper into how cognition is developed or hindered while one has a cold. At the beginning of the study, 189 participants completed a series of baseline cognitive tests. After 90 days, one-third of the participants returned to the lab after developing a cold, while the remaining two-thirds had no symptoms and served as the control group. The participants that had developed colds reported feeling more sluggish, less alert, and more irritable than usual. During the second round of cognitive tests, participants had slower reaction times and had difficulty learning new information. This evidence suggests that cold viruses may cause sluggishness by interacting with neurotransmitters such as dopamine, noradrenaline, and choline.

What if I have no symptoms?

While many people can relate to feeling less than sharp when sick, previous studies have shown that colds can induce cognitive impairment even when no physical symptoms are present. In another study by Smith, the reaction times of participants with colds and healthy participants were examined. The participants with colds responded more slowly to unexpected occurrences, such as those that occur regularly on the road. These participants may be less likely to avoid collisions and crashes due to their delayed response times.

How can I ward off a cold?

You can do many things to keep yourself healthy and reduce your risk of contracting a cold. Some things that people can and should do regularly to keep themselves healthy include:

How can I improve my cognitive functioning?

Cognitive functioning can be improved through a variety of activities. Many people, both healthy and those with medical conditions that impact cognitive functioning, want to keep their brains active and stay sharp. Some things that people can do to improve their cognitive functioning include:

  • Doing tasks that require planning and hands-on work, such as garage work
  • Taking up hobbies such as art, dance, or a team sport
  • Reading
  • Working in an environment that requires you to think and make decisions
  • Doing cognitive activities online, in a workbook, or on paper
  • Working with a clinical provider that provides cognitive rehabilitation therapy


Everyone catches colds during the colder months. While colds can make us feel feverish and sluggish, they can also impact our cognitive abilities. When someone is sick, they have trouble responding quickly to stimuli and learning new information. Many things can be done to reduce the risk of catching a cold, such as eating well and exercising regularly. Lastly, people can perform a variety of activities that can help them improve their cognitive functioning, such as reading or taking up a creative hobby.

Christine Campbell

Christine is HappyNeuron Pro’s Marketing Specialist. People with intellectual disabilities have a special place in her heart. Growing up with a sibling with an autism diagnosis and intellectual disability influenced the way she views life. She is passionate about educating people about health and sharing cognitive tips.

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