A woman with a headache holding her head.

5 Signs that Flu May Be Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is odorless, colorless, flavorless, and can be fatal. And it’s not as simple to get rid of as a little bit of smoke from a burnt meal. You can’t just open a window and expect the carbon monoxide to clear out of your home. If you suspect your home has a carbon monoxide leak (and it can be hard to know without a detector!), you need to call for help before things get worse. And they can get worse fast!

If your home has a carbon monoxide leak, the earliest signs can often be confused for the flu.

1. Headache

There are a ton of reasons you could have a headache, so don’t panic right away! Carbon monoxide headaches are often described as similar to a tension headache. It’s often dull and throbbing. These headaches are one of the earliest symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Unless your CO detectors are going off, it can be easy to excuse these headaches as something else. Just another reason it’s important to have these detectors (and keep up with replacing expired ones)! They’ll let you know something is up before things can get too bad.

2. Dizziness

You probably know what it’s like. The room is spinning. It’s hard to balance. And there’s no escape from that awful feeling. Sometimes, laying down might give you a little relief, but when you’re dizzy—you’re miserable. This is often one of the early symptoms of CO poisoning. Don’t ignore it!

3. Weakness

If you’ve ever had the flu, you know how exhausting it can feel. It can be difficult to get the energy to even sit up or walk short distances to the bathroom or kitchen. Weakness from carbon monoxide poisoning starts because your muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen from your blood. After a while, that weakness can come from muscle necrosis, which is when the muscles in your body are dying. It’ll feel hard to climb stairs, walk, bend your arms and legs, or sit up. Eventually, it can start to feel hard to speak or chew. This will only get worse the longer you’re exposed to CO.

4. Upset Stomach and Vomiting

Not every flu virus causes an upset stomach and vomiting, but sometimes they do. So, if you’re feeling crummy and fluish and you have a stomachache, you might not think twice about it. The fact of the matter is, if you’re actually dealing with CO poisoning and you’re at the point where your stomach is bothering you, you’ve officially moved on to the more advanced symptoms. We know it can be hard to convince yourself to leave the bathroom with a stomachache, but if you even remotely suspect it’s from CO poisoning, it’s not gonna get better on its own—you need to get out and call for help.

5. Fatigue

When you’re breathing in carbon monoxide, the toxic gas will start to replace the oxygen in your bloodstream. This means your organs aren’t gonna get the oxygen they need to function right. One of those organs is your brain. If your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen, you’ll start to feel incredibly sleepy. This isn’t just your normal pre-coffee sleepiness, either. This is total physical and mental exhaustion that gets worse over time. You might also start to feel out of breath without even doing anything.

Pets Feel It Too

Morris-Jenkins technician with a dog.

If you have furry or feathered family members, they’ll be the first to feel the CO in your home. No one wants to think about their pets in danger, but if you have a carbon monoxide leak, your pet will probably start to get weak before you get sick. Eventually, they’ll become unresponsive. We can’t express enough how important it is to have CO detectors in your home. Every second counts for EVERY member of your family—even the furry or feathered ones.

A Fatal Difference

If you notice these symptoms while your home, but they seem to get better when you’re somewhere else, this could be a clue that you’re dealing with carbon monoxide poisoning, NOT the flu! Not only that, but while the flu and carbon monoxide poisoning have some similar symptoms, the flu usually comes with a fever. As carbon monoxide poisoning gets worse, it can come with chest pain, fainting, trouble thinking clearly, increased heart rate, loss of consciousness, and even convulsions. When you’re exposed to too much for too long, carbon monoxide can be fatal.

Technician showing Nest Protect CO Detector to customer

To make things worse, CO takes a while to clear out of your body. It can take several hours, and it can cause more damage to your body during that time. When it comes to carbon monoxide exposure, every moment counts! If your CO detectors are going off- DON’T WAIT. Leave the house and call for emergency help! The longer you wait, the longer your recovery can take. Even if you aren’t exposed to massive amounts of CO, you could have long term problems afterward. After even small amounts for too long, you could end up with permanent brain and nerve damage.

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Have you had work done on your house recently? You might wanna get things checked out! Unfortunately, roofers and other service workers can sometimes damage gas lines and such while they’re doing their work. This can put your family at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. It’s best to play things safe and have one of our safety experts take a look at everything anytime you’ve had major work done to the house.

Keep Your Family Safe

While you can try to keep your family safe from the flu by washing your hands often, keeping your family safe from carbon monoxide can be even easier! Make sure you have carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of your house and replace them before they expire. When you call Morris-Jenkins for your annual heat safety check, your technician can even change out your detector batteries for you while they’re there! Just hand the batteries over, and we’ll take it from there.

During your heat safety check, your technician will take a close look at your furnace. They’ll check for any cracks in your heat exchanger that could cause a carbon monoxide leak. With our help, your family can stay safe and warm all winter long!

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