A person suffering from a lightning injury will experience an electric shock and/or a burn due to the lightning strike. Lightning burns may cause mild to severe damage from minor burns to major damages in the internal organs of the body. When a lightning strike causes death in a person, it is called electrocution.
Disclaimer: Remember to seek medical attention with any serious electrical injuries. The material posted on this page for managing lightning injuries is for information purposes only. Learn more by taking St Mark James first aid and CPR training.
There are three main types of lightning injuries:
- Direct lightning strike. The lightning bolt will directly hit the person without hitting anything else around him. A direct lightning strike will therefore cause the most severe type of lightning injury.
- Side flash. Unlike a direct lightning strike, the lightning bolt with first hit another object before striking the person.
- Ground current. The lightning bold will strike an object after which, the electrical current would pass through the ground towards the victim of the lightning strike.
Lightning injuries are caused due to the electric current coming from the lightning strike. The voltage may vary from 103 million to 2 billion volts, with a current as high as 300,000 amps.
Lightning travels over the outer region of the body, unlike general electricity that travels inwards. A lightning strike may also cause a respiratory or cardiac arrest in the victim, but only rarely damages internal organs of the body.
Signs and symptoms of lightning injuries include
- Muscle aches
- Loss of hearing
- Loss of memory – short term memory loss
- Limb pain such as arm pain and/or leg pain
- Unilateral arm numbness
- Unilateral leg numbness
- Unilateral hand numbness
- Unilateral arm weakness
- Unilateral leg weakness
- Unilateral hand weakness
- Fatigue and generalized weakness
- Temporary vision loss
Seek emergency medical help if any of the following problems occur prior to the lightning injury:
- Breathing difficulty
- Chest pain
- Loss of hearing or loss of vision
- Weakness of the arm (unilateral)
- Weakness of the leg (unilateral)
- Weakness of the hand (unilateral(
- Numbness and tingling
- Arm pain
- Leg pain
- Neck pain
- Weakness and/or fatigue
- Heart palpitations
- Inability to walk or having difficulty walking
Complications associated with lightning injuries include:
- Cardiac arrest – heart stops beating
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Internal bleeding
- Ruptured eardrum
- Nerve damage
- Thermal burns
- Chronic pain
- Behavioural changes
Call 911 immediately and follow the steps given below until help arrives:
1. Safety first! Approach the victim only when it is safe for you
- If you suspect that you may be in danger due to ongoing lightening strikes, wait until it is safe for you to go towards the person or move to a safer zone, if possible
2. Begin CPR, if it is safe to touch the victim
- Make sure the body has not retained the electric charge
- Check the ABCs: Airway, Breathing and Circulation. Clear the airway for any obstructions
- Check the casualty’s breathing and pulse. If the casualty is not breathing and/or does not have a pulse, begin CPR immediately
- Avoid removing the burnt clothes, unless it is necessary to do so
3. Treat shock
- Allow the victim to lie down on the ground with his trunk higher than his head. Prop the legs up and keep them supported for circulation
To learn more about managing a lightning emergency and providing first aid enrol in a St Mark James course (more information here) with one of our credible and convenient providers.