Lightning Strike Facts
- Lightning is consistently among the top five weather-related killers.
- In typical years past, lightning killed more people in the United States than any other natural disaster (with the exception of flash floods), including tornadoes.
- Most people killed or injured by lightning are outside doing recreational activities such as fishing, boating, swimming, or playing sports.
- Others are working outdoors at construction jobs. Farmers are often struck, too.
What are the different kinds of lightning strikes?
Injury from a lightning strike may occur in any of these ways:
- Direct strike: Lightning directly strikes a person.
- Contact strike: A person is touching an object (such as a tree or pole) that has been struck by lightning.
- Side splash: Lightning jumps from the primary strike object on its way to the ground.
- Ground strike: Lightning strikes the ground and the current spreads out in a circle from that spot.
- Blunt injury: A person is thrown violently from the lightning strike or from the explosive force that occurs as surrounding air is superheated and rapidly cooled.
- Upward streamer: When a low-energy electrical charge streams upward to meet a downward leader, it may carry enough current to cause electrical injury even if it does not connect with the downward current to complete the lightning strike.
What are the symptoms of a lightning strike?
A person struck by lightning may have immediate cardiac arrest. In others, you may see no outward signs of injury. Some people may lose consciousness for varying periods. They may seem confused and not remember what happened. Lightning may even flash over the outside of a person, blow off their clothes, and leave few obvious signs of injury.
Lightning may cause numerous other injuries:
- Heart damage or cardiac arrest may occur.
- Up to two-thirds of the seriously injured people struck by lightning have keraunoparalysis - a temporary paralysis unique to lightning strike.
- Victims may experience superficial burns. Contrary to common belief, deep burns are rare. They occur in few lightning injuries.
- Various types of broken bones and dislocations may be caused by lightning.
- Skull fractures and cervical spine (neck) injuries may result from associated blunt trauma.
- Lungs may be damaged, causing shortness of breath.
- Eye injury may cause immediate visual problems or delayed cataract formation.
- The eardrum is commonly ruptured. This causes pain, hearing loss, and dizziness.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/20/2016
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