Facts About Lightning Strike Victims

In the United States, each year, lightning kills an average of 55 people and injures more than 300 people based  on documented cases from 1981 through 2010.  While any death is tragic and also devastating to the family, injuries can be equally tragic and even more devastating to the family.  For those who have a relative that suffers a significant disability from lightning, life changes forever.  In addition to the physical pain and mental anguish suffered by the victim and the victim’s family, the incident may lead to a loss of income for the family.  Over time, medical expenses for treatment may drain the family’s assets.

If someone is struck by lightning, it is important that they receive the appropriate medical attention immediately.  Some deaths can be prevented if the victims are attended to promptly. Lightning victims
do not carry an electrical charge and are safe to handle.  First, have someone call 9-1-1 or your local ambulance service.  Check to see that the victim is breathing and has a pulse, and continue to
monitor the victim until help arrives.  Cardiac arrest is the immediate cause of death in lightning fatalities.  If necessary, begin cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

Also, if possible, move the victim to a safer place.  Don’t let the rescuers become lightning victims.  Lightning can strike the same place twice.

Physically, only few lightning strike victims actually suffer burns. Due to the conductivity of the human body, lightning burns are usually minor, and most lightning burns are caused when objects next to the body (such as necklaces, rings, or metal coins) are heated by the lightning.  In addition, sweat, vaporized by lightning, can also cause burns.

Mentally, lightning strike victims may face many challenges that they’ll have to live with for the rest of their lives.  When the brain is affected by a lightning strike, the person often has difficultly with many of the mental processes that most people take for granted.  The person may suffer from short-term memory loss, and may have difficulty mentally storing new information and accessing old information.  Victims may often find it very difficult to carry on more than one task at a time, and may be easily distracted. Their personality may change and they may become easily irritated.

Victims often complain of becoming easily fatigued and may become exhausted after only a few hours work.  This may be because mental tasks that were once automatic may now require intense concentration to accomplish.  Although some victims may sleep excessively at first, after a few weeks, many find it difficult to sleep more than two or three hours at a time.

Another common long-term problem for survivors is pain.  Medically, pain is difficult to quantify.  Lightning strike victims often suffer irreparable nerve damage from which they will suffer for the rest of their lives.  The pain can be so intense that it affects the person’s ability to function.  Many survivors complain of chronic headaches, some of which are very intense and debilitating. It is important to remember that, while many lightning victims
survive, their lives are changed forever, and their dreams for the future and those of their family will never be the same.


What are the chances that a person will be struck by lightning during his or her lifetime?

Answer: Based on estimated cases of lightning deaths and injuries for the last 10 years, the nationwide odds of being killed or injured by lightning are about 1 in 775,000 for each year of your life.  Assuming a life span of 80 years, that’s lifetime odds of more than 1 in 10,000.  Keep in mind, though, that your behavior around thunderstorms will determine your individual odds.  If you are aware of all the threats posed by lightning and act accordingly, your chances for being struck by lightning will be considerably lower.  On the other hand, if you are not aware of those dangers or don’t take the appropriate safety precautions, your odds of being struck by lightning will be higher.

For additional information about lightning or lightning safety, visit NOAA’s Lightning Safety Awareness web site.

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