Lightning #3: Lightning-Related Injury

Injury can be caused by:

Direct effects of electricity on the nervous system.
Heat that is caused by the resistance of the current across or through the body.
Concussive effect of the shock wave of thunder.
Explosive force on other objects can hurl debris.  Water – steam expands 1700x’s.

Lightning-related injuries:


Confusion  – Amnesia ( hours to days )
Temporary deafness – Temporary blindness – Temporary loss of consciousness
Cutaneous burns – Contusions – minor blunt trauma & injuries
Paresthesias – Muscular pain
Tympanic membrane rupture
Mild transient hypertension
Cognitive damage to learning, thinking, or memory

Moderate: Temporary – to – permanent

Eyes – cataracts
Disoriented  – combative – comatose
Motor paralysis
Mottled skin
Diminished or absent pulses – Hypotension
Fractures – Spinal shock – spinal fractures
Temporary cardiopulmonary standstill or Respiratory arrest – can lead to cardiac arrest
1st and 2nd degree thermal burns
Ruptured tympanic membrane – Hemotympanum – may indicate basilar skull fracture


Cardiac arrest – asystole, ventricular fibrillation
Direct brain damage
Hematologic disorders – DIC
Basilar skull fracture

For more detailed information about lightning and lightning-related injuries see the Wilderness Medicine Newsletter, Lightning – Beauty & the Beast, July/August 2003.

This blog is powered by the Wilderness Medicine Newsletter, now celebrating 20 years of publication. The WMN is published and distributed online six times each year by TMC Books, and subscriptions cost as little as $10 per year. To find out more, or to subscribe online, click here.

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