Struck By Lightning

Stephanie, 46, heard a thunderstorm approaching and went outside to take a few pictures with her daughter. Suddenly, there was a flash of light, and she says she felt pain throughout her body, which lasted two to three minutes. As the pain subsided and a tingling sensation set in through her extremities, Stephanie realized she’d been struck by lightning.

Stephanie joins The Doctors to ask if the minor forgetfulness and fatigue she has been feeling since the incident are due to the lightning and if she should be concerned.

ER physician Dr. Travis Stork explains what happens when a person is struck by lightning and describes the difference between a direct strike and ground current. He says a direct strike causes the current to move through the body, usually through the cardiovascular or nervous systems, and can produce burns on the skin. Though uncommon, this type of strike causes 3-5 percent of deaths and injuries.

Ground current occurs when lightning strikes a tree or other object, causing the energy to travel outward in and along the ground surface. Anyone who is outside near the area where the lightning strikes potentially can be injured by the ground current. 

“If you hear thunder, you are at risk of a lightning strike,” Dr. Travis says.

Common symptoms

According to the National Weather Service, people who have been struck by lightning, and do not suffer cardiac arrest at the time of the strike, may experience any of the following mild symptoms:

  • Muscle soreness
  • Headache, nausea, upset stomach and other post-concussion symptoms
  • Mild confusion, memory slowness or mental clouding
  • Dizziness and/or balance problems

These symptoms will often clear up after a few days. Longer term problems, including slow reaction time, distractibility, irritability and headaches, may also occur.

How to reduce your risk of being struck:

  • When thunder roars, go indoors!
  • Crouch close to the ground, but do not lie flat
  • Avoid water and wet items
  • Avoid electronic equipment and anything that can conduct electricity

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