Lightning strike injury

A lightning strike is considered as a weather-related emergency and has been the top cause of death. Majority of individuals who are injured or killed by lightning are outside engaging in recreational activities such as boating, fishing, swimming or other sports. In some cases, others are working outdoors at construction sites and even farmers.

Causes of lightning strike injuries

Lightning strike injuries typically occur in various ways:

  • Direct strike is when lightning strikes directly an individual
  • Side splash is when lightning jumps from the primary strike object while on its way to the ground
  • Contact strike is when an individual is touching an object that has been in contact with the lightning
  • Ground strike occurs once the lightning hits the ground and the current travels out in a circle from that spot
  • Upward streamer occurs if a low-energy electrical charge travels in an upward manner to meet a downward leader. This can carry enough current to cause an injury even if it is not connected with the downward current to the lightning source
  • Blunt injury occurs if an individual is violently thrown from the lightning strike or from the explosive force that occurs since the surrounding air is super-heated and cooled rapidly

Symptoms of lightning strike injuries

An individual who is struck by lightning can have a sudden cardiac arrest. In some, there are no evident signs of injury while some can lose consciousness for varying periods and can appear confused and could not remember what happened.  A lightning strike can cause the following injuries:

  • Cardiac arrest or heart damage
  • Superficial burns
  • Some individuals can suffer from keraunoparalysis which is a temporary paralysis unique to a lightning strike
  • Different types of broken bones and dislocations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cervical spine injuries or skull fractures
  • Eye injury can cause delayed cataract formation or immediate visual problems
  • Ruptured eardrum resulting to hearing loss, pain and dizziness

When to seek medical care

lightning strike injury

A lightning strike injury that is accompanied with chest pain must be checked by a health care professional.

It is important to call for emergency assistance for the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Paralysis
  • Period of unconsciousness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Neck or back pain
  • Noticeable burns
  • Evident deformity of the extremity such as the arm or leg

Treatment for lightning strike injuries

Immediately perform CPR on the individual who is not breathing and has no pulse. Call for emergency assistance right away. An individual who is suspected of being injured by lightning must be evaluated in the emergency department in the nearest hospital even if there are no evident injuries.

Medical treatment for lightning strike injuries

Generally, if the individual has no symptoms and has a normal ECG, he/she will be sent home with a referral to specialists if required. The doctor will treat injuries that are detected during the physical examination.

  • Possible heart injury that is shown in an abnormal ECG or blood enzymes can be managed in the hospital by observation and medications.
  • Head injury that is indicated by loss of consciousness or confusion is usually treated by observation in the hospital.
  • Eye and ear injuries are treated with referral to a specialist.
  • Spinal injuries require hospitalization for observation and surgical stabilization.
  • Keraunoparalysis is temporary but require observation in the hospital.


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