What to do if someone is struck by lightning

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Many times, it’s clear when someone is struck by lightning due the blinding flash and deafening boom.  However, as I wrote in a previous post, lightning can travel up to 10 miles, so a strike can happen on a sunny day.  Then the diagnosis may get difficult.

If someone who’s not been in your sight walks up confused with disheveled, even missing clothes, suspect it.  However, in this case, there’s not much you can do other than try to comfort and call 911 if available.

If you’re the one struck and are still awake, be thankful. You have good odds of surviving.  Seek shelter and get help.  Much of the following information can be applied to your situation.

HOW LIGHTNING HARMS YOU

Lightning can injure in several ways.

  • It can stop your heart and breathing. This is immediate, obvious and lethal.  If it doesn’t kill you right away, you have a good chance of survival.
  • It can cause burns, but these are not usually severe or deep.  If you’re wearing metal, the heat from the current may localize, causing a direct burn at the metal site.  But many times there’s no burn at all.
  • The light can temporarily blind you.
  • The blast waves can temporarily deafen you, often bursting eardrums.  It can also knock your clothes off or throw you around, breaking bones.
  • It often dazes and confuses, with varying degrees of amnesia and severe headaches.

There can be many long-term problems,  but we’re talking about immediate effects for now.

WHAT TO DO FOR A LIGHTNING STRIKE

If someone is struck, remember your own safety first.  Lightning can and does strike the same place twice.  Of course,call 911 if available.  Be careful, though.  Lightning in the area can cause cell-phone static loud enough to harm your hearing.

When you think it’s safe, assess the person.  There’s no risk of shock from touching.

  1. If the person is unconscious, check for breathing and a pulse.  If there is none, start chest compressions at a rate of 100 per minute.  No mouth-to-mouth unless you have training.  It’s more effective to just concentrate on the compressions.  Kneel over with your arms straight and the bases of your hands together.  Firmly press 1 1/2 to 2 inches straight down on the middle of the chest.  If there’s no response in 30 minutes, there’s no sense in continuing (unless you expect emergency personnel).
  2. If the person is unconscious but breathing and has a pulse, protect him or her from the elements as best you can and otherwise leave the person alone.  There could be broken bones vigorous moving would damage.
  3. If the person is conscious, the evaluation is much easier.  Try to calm him or her down if agitated or confused.  Splint any suspected fractures and get the person to shelter.

CPR is the same as it would be for any other reason the heart has stopped.  If you want to make a difference, take a course.

Doctors and business owners: Send customized issues of James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor to your customers or patients. E-mail publisher-at-familydoctormag.com for details.

As with all information on this site, this article cannot replace professional, personal medical advice. Read more here.

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5 Responses to “What to do if someone is struck by lightning”

  1. Mark Salinas Says:

    Great tips! Hope I never have to be around a strike!

  2. Dr. J Says:

    Happy to say I have never faced this problem, but now I’m ready! Thanks Dr. Hubbard!

    I’ve enjoyed reading your review of lightening!

    Dr. Js last blog post..Nibbles: Cholesterol drugs help, heavy kids show early markers of heart risk and saving diabetic feet

  3. James Hubbard Says:

    Thanks Mark and Dr. J.

    Maybe some of it will stick in your mind if needed.

    James Hubbards last blog post..How to Help a Loved One: depression, alcoholism, addiction …

  4. Blake Says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts about lightning. good stuff to know and remember. Hope I’m never around when lightning hits someone!

    Blakes last blog post..The Fifth Third Burger

  5. James Hubbard Says:

    Thanks Blake, I agree

    James Hubbards last blog post..How to Help a Loved One: depression, alcoholism, addiction …

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