When lightning strikes it strikes fast… Well, it strikes at the speed of light, so if it’s coming for you then you’re highly unlikely to succeed in avoiding it. A lightning bolt will course through the human body in three milliseconds and just like that, your life could be changed forever. There are a number of serious, and shocking ailments that can result in the unfortunate event of being struck by lightning. Just how unfortunate would you need to be, to fall victim to a bolt of lightning strike? It’s estimated that the chances of getting stuck by lightning are about one in 6,250 in an 80-year lifespan. These chances increase and decrease depending on place and time, and can be drastically decreased with a little common sense. For instance, common sense would say not to stand on the top of the Empire State Building in New York City in the middle of a thunderstorm. The officials probably wouldn’t let you anyway, as they likely already know that the building gets hit on average 25 times a year. However, sometimes people just find themselves caught in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time during a storm. The death rate caused by lightning in the U.S. exceeds that of hurricanes and tornadoes; it’s estimated that around 100 U.S. residents are killed each year by lightning. At any given time there are around 2,000 thunderstorms happening around the world, which produce lightning strikes at a rate of 6,000 per minute. Here are some of the extraordinary things that can happen to you should you ever be struck by lightning:
10. Lichtenberg Scarring
When lightning strikes a human it enters the body, flows through it, and finds an exit point. Upon exiting, lightning can leave severe wounds behind, like major burns and something know as Lichtenberg scarring. This type of scarring can occur over a large area of the body, and most often resembles branches on a leafless tree. The patterns created by Lichtenberg scars are commonly referred to as fractals and are actually the result of bursting blood vessels. The name refers to the branching electrical discharges that have been known to appear on the interior or on the surface of insulating materials. More specifically the name comes from a German physicist – Georg Christoph Lichtenberg – who, obviously, discovered them in the first place. These unique scars are a striking mark of survival on living victims.
9. Shredded Clothes
The heat from lightning is very intense, and can cause victims’ clothes to catch on fire, of course, but also shred to pieces: think Incredible Hulk clothes after the transformation. Shredding happens because of the explosive force of the air around the victim being superheated by the lightning bolt. And superheated, in this regard, means hotter than the sun. Lightning itself can be up to five times hotter than the sun, and a single bolt can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Let’s put it this way, if the worst that happened when you were struck by lightning was that your favorite pair of denim jeans got shredded, you’d probably count yourself lucky…
8. Blown Off Shoes
Shoes getting blown off of a person’s feet when they get struck by lightning isn’t just a thing that happens in cartoons, this can happen in real life too, and there is a perfectly scientific explanation for it as well. Just like the superheated air and the force that shreds one’s clothes, it is the force that blows one’s shoes off. It happens when the lightning finding its exit point through someone’s feet. In a report to Newsday regarding a man who had been struck by lightning and experienced this, he was quoted saying, “The lightning came out of my body through the foot, and my shoe exploded.”
7. Heart Failure
Although the human body makes a very good conductor of electricity, it definitely wasn’t made to conduct 300 kV’s of it. This massive amount of electric discharge from a lightning bolt can have a number of negative effects on the heart, including cardiac arrest. The lightning bolt can act like a large fibrillator, which upsets the electrical rhythm of the heart. In addition, the lightning strike can damage the cardiac muscles, and, as we discussed with the Lichtenberg scarring, it can cause blood vessels to burst. Immediately after a person is struck by lightning symptoms can include myocardial damage, pulmonary edema in the circulatory system, and cardiac arrhythmia. It has been reported that the majority of lightning strike fatalities are due to cardiac arrest. However ironically, if someone nearby witnesses someone get struck by lightning and has on automatic external defibrillator, and they were able to administer another electric shock to the heart of the victim, then they would possibly survive.
6. Brain Damage and Coma
As lightning is known to do, it strikes down at the Earth from above, so chances are pretty good that the electric current will enter the skull of the victim. This isn’t always so but in the case that it does happen it can cause brain damage, short-term memory loss, amnesia and even a comatose state. Many victims will likely lose consciousness, but the duration varies from anywhere from a few minutes to a few years. The heat from the electric current (and now we know how impressively hot this is) literally cooks the brain. Ever see that drug commercial with the frying egg, that says, “This is your brain on drugs?” Well, imagine that entire pan exploding…that’s your brain being struck by lightning. The fact that so many people survive this type of trauma is a great example of the resilience of the human body.
Depending on where the lightning strikes, and where the damage happens in the body, a number of things can happen neurologically. Lightning’s powerful electrical discharge can easily damage the delicate nervous system within the body. Some victims end up with numbness or weakness in their limbs, or even with permanent paralysis. When the central nervous system suffers paralysis a number of side effects can occur, including but not limited to dementia, amnesia, impaired reflexes, memory gaps, anxiety and/or depression. Paralysis can affect other areas of the body as well; the respiratory system can suffer paralysis. While the respiratory system may be threatened in a variety of ways by a lightning strike, one of the greatest threat to the system is paralysis, because in this case the victim would need artificial respiration in order to survive, or could die from a lack of oxygen.
4. Ear and Eye Damage
Ruptured ear drums may be one of the most common side effects of getting struck by lightning. In fact, it has been reported that over 50 percent of victims experience ruptured ear drums. Hearing loss and tinnitus affects many survivors. Partial hearing loss and chronic ear infections occur in 47 percent of lightning strike patients and dizziness and vertigo are commonly reported. Another very common side effect is eye damage, with over half of the victims also suffering some sort of corneal injury. Cataracts are very common and can occur anywhere from a few days to several years after the event. Other eye injuries can include retinal detachment, retinal bleeding and optic nerve degeneration.
3. Channeling Electric Current
Many things that we wear on our bodies everyday can be life threatening in a thunderstorm. Jewelry and chains that we adorn our bodies with are perfect for channeling the electric current of a lightning bolt. Even the underwire in bras can, to some degree, assist in this channeling of currents. If any of these previously mentioned metal objects encounter lightning they can superheat, and in turn will often times sear and burn the victims skin.
2. Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms
In some unfortunate cases victims can be left with muscles that constantly twitch, resembling the symptoms that are associated with Parkinson’s Disease. This is referred to as Parkinsonism. There are a few other long-term neurological maladies that can occur in lightning victims, including learning disabilities, seizures, personality changes, and sleep disorders.
Perhaps ostensibly less shocking than some of the others, this is what most people assume would be the most obvious outcome of a lightning strike. However, many many people – the majority actually, about 90 percent – will live through this crazy, intense experience. They live to tell the tale, so to speak. But it is most likely, however unfortunate, that they will experience one or more of the issues listed here.