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When thunder roars, head indoors

July 01, 2013
 

Media Contact: Keith.O’Connor@baystatehealth.org, 413-794-7656

SPRINGFIELD – There have already been eight lighting fatalities in the United States in 2013, beginning as early as April in Missouri and more recently at the end of June when a man was struck and killed while climbing down scaffolding in Florida.. Several people locally have already been struck by lighting this season, but survived.

“Lightning can cause a victim’s heart to stop and seriously affect the internal organs,” said Dr. Joseph Schmidt, vice chair, Emergency Medicine, Baystate Medical Center.

 

Those who don’t die and survive a lightning strike often report a variety of symptoms, some long-term, including memory loss, dizziness, sleep disorders, numbness, irritability, fatigue, depression, muscle spasms, weakness, and stiffness in various joints.

“One of the best safety tips I can offer is to quote what the National Weather Service tells us: ‘When thunder roars, go indoors,’” said Dr. Schmidt, noting the importance of seeking shelter when you hear the storm approaching in the distance and before lighting begins striking in your area.

Dr. Schmidt offers the following safety guidelines whether caught outside during a thunderstorm – where most lightning victims are found while enjoying leisure time activities such as playing sports, camping, boating, hiking, or fishing, whether on the shore or on a boat in the water – or even in the safety of your home:
• Seek shelter, if outdoors, in a building or vehicle. Don’t go near water or lay down
on wet ground. If there is nowhere safe to go, if possible, crouch down in a dry
ditch. According to statistics from the National Weather Service, men and boys
account for more than 80 percent of lightning fatalities because they are less
likely to seek shelter immediately upon hearing thunder.
• Stay away from tall or metal objects such as flagpoles, fences, and trees, where you are susceptible to side flashes and ground current strikes.
• If you are indoors, remember that lightning can travel through wires or pipes into your home. So, it’s a good idea to stay away from electrical appliances and avoid using the telephone, as well as coming into contact with any plumbing.
• Don’t watch storms from an open window or door. Also, avoid the fireplace
because the chimney is a target.

 

Dr. Schmidt, whose job as a physician educator also involves prevention, said feeling your hair stand on end is a warning that lightning is about to strike near you and for safety sake you should crouch down immediately.

“The safest place to be is in a steel-framed building or a building protected by lightning rods,” said Dr. Schmidt.

The Baystate emergency department physician also cautioned those who just can’t put their cell phones or iPods down to think twice when lightning strikes.

“A report in the British Medical Journal noted that using a mobile phone while you are outside in a storm could increase your chances of being hit by lightning,” said
Dr. Schmidt.

 

While there is no definitive study proving that these devices attract lightning, the worry is that they can serve as conductors if a person is struck by lightning, sending an electrical charge throughout the body and risking more serious injury, noted Dr. Schmidt.

For more information on Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org/bmc.

 
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