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Lightning can be a matter of life or death

July 08, 2014

SPRINGFIELD –Summer thunderstorms aren’t what they used to be. Today, these wonders of nature appear to be more threatening than ever before, with dangerous cloud to ground lightning, high winds, hail and torrential rain.

As of June, there have been seven lightning fatalities this year around the country. In the United States, an average of 51 people are killed each year by lightning and hundreds more are severely injured, according to the National Weather Service.

“Lightning can cause a victim’s heart to stop and seriously affect your 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.

The American College of Emergency Physicians offers the following safety guidelines whether caught outside during a thunderstorm or in the safety of your home:
• Seek shelter when a thunderstorm is approaching (you are much safer indoors or inside an enclosed car).
• Avoid tall, isolated structures, such as tall, single trees or flag poles; don’t hold a “lightning rod” such as a golf club, umbrella, or tent pole.
• Stay away from open fields, open structures or vehicles, or contact with conductive material, such as computers, telephones, water pipes, or fences.
• Avoid being near, on, or in water.
• Turn off, unplug, and stay away from electrical appliances, televisions, computers and power tools. Stay away from windows, fireplaces and water pipes and drains.
• Do not use the telephone.

Dr. Schmidt noted that there has been some discussion in the media over the
past years that iPods or similar devices during storms can attract lightning-strike injuries.

“The true concern is that when lightning strikes an iPod or other metal device, the
metal conducts the electricity resulting in more serious harm caused by contact
burns from these items,” he said.

The American College of Emergency Physicians also suggests following the “30-
30 Rule:” seek shelter if you hear thunder within 30 seconds of the lightning flash. Then,
wait at least 30 minutes after the last lighting flash or thunder to resume normal activity.

If you see a person struck by lightning, call 9-1-1 immediately and begin CPR if the victim is not breathing.

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