With Lightning, Safety First!

Prevention and treatment guidelines for lightning storms

(RxWiki News) Storms can sneak up on people and catch them off guard. Follow safety guidelines to avoid being struck by lightning!

The 2011 lightning safety guidelines update was released. Ground electricity contacting the feet is the most common injury from a lightening strike.

"Go indoors at the first sound of thunder!"

Chris Davis, MD, Wilderness Fellow and Clinical Instructor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, Colorado, was lead author of lightning avoidance and injury guidelines.

These guidelines were presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Wilderness Medical Society in Snowmass, CO. They are intended to update guidelines from 2006.

According the guideline’s background, 24,000 deaths and 10 times as many injuries from lightning strikes happen every year all over the world.

A single bolt of lightning can be both negatively and positively charged, direct and alternating in current and anywhere between 30,000 to 110,000 amps.

Only 5 percent of human lightning injuries are direct strikes. Side splashes are responsible for around one-third of injuries—where the lighting strikes an object then jumps onto a person standing nearby.

Approximately half of injuries are from lightning traveling through the ground up to a person’s feet. Injuries are also possible from direct contact with a struck object.

Dr. Davis said, “With some basic prevention strategies and common sense the vast majority of lightning injuries can be prevented.”

Most lightning related deaths are from cardiac and respiratory arrest occurring at the same time from the strike. A second cardiac arrest is also possible if proper ventilation is not supported after the strike.

Lightning will travel the easiest and least resistant pathway. In the body, bone is the worst electric conductor, then fat, skin, muscle, blood and finally nerves.

The electricity from lightning shoots right through the nerves to shock the heart and respiratory systems.

The guidelines recommend going indoors as soon as thunder is heard and remain indoors until 30 minutes after last thunderclap.

If in the wilderness, avoid standing near tall objects, crouch down and sit on a non-metal object such as bedding, a pack or rope to block ground currents.

Lightening can jump up to 15 feet, so if in the wilderness and in a group, spread group members out 20 feet apart.

For further lightening prevention techniques and injury treatment recommendations follow the link below to the full guidelines.

This study was published in September in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine. No funding was used to support the formation of these guidelines, and no conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
September 11, 2012