Straight, No Chaser: Electrical Injuries and Lightning Strikes

Electricalinjurydanger

As I watch lightning lighting up the sky, it makes me wonder if anyone out there is unlucky enough to be getting struck. The annual probability of being struck by lightning is approximately 1 in 280,000, which is a lot more frequent than makes me comfortable. Today’s Straight, No Chaser addresses concerns and frequently asked questions on electrical injuries.

Why is getting shocked a big deal?

The human body conducts electricity very well, meaning when an external current is attached to us, it runs through the body with ease. This provides a lot of opportunity to cause damage. That damage in the wrong place can kill.

How does getting shocked cause damage?

There are three different paths by which electrical current (“getting shocked”) can cause damage.

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  • On the way in and out, electrical current is likely to cause burns to the skin (thermal burns, aka entry and exit wounds).
  • An electrical current can cause destruction to several tissues, including muscles and nerves.
  • As electrical currents reach the heart, they can be disruptive to the heart’s electrical current, even causing it to stop.

What are some common causes of electrical injuries?

The dangers are all around you and in many instances occur because you don’t respect the power and danger of the electricity you use.

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  • If you have a job involving machinery or working with electricity, you can’t afford to get comfortable, because that’s when mistakes and injuries occur.

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  • If you have electrical outlets that aren’t childproofed, then it stands to reason that eventually someone might place a metal object into that outlet, receiving a shock – or worse.

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  • If you have electrical appliances with worn, frayed and exposed wiring and you come in contact with the wire while it’s plugged in, you will be shocked.

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  • You live near a high-voltage power line? Beware of flashing electric arcs, which are looking for somewhere to land.

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  • Thunder and lightning outside? Don’t be the golfer or other nature-lover wielding metal or otherwise unnecessarily exposing yourself to a rather large bolt. When you hear the thunder, the lightning is closer than you may think, relatively speaking.

What are the types of injuries I may receive?

Symptoms related to electrical injuries are numerous and varied. Here are a few examples.

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  • Burns are common. The skin is likely to be pierced and burned on the way in and on the way out, producing “exit wounds” from the burn. Additionally, your sweat can be converted to steam and produce burns that way. Children who bite something with an active electrical current can receive a burn to the lip and experience delayed yet significant bleeding from the lip.

electrical lip-burn

  • The parts of the body that rely heavily on electric current are likely to be involved and damaged. This means you may experience the symptoms of a heart attack, an irregular heartbeat, numbness and tingling in your arms or legs from nerve damage or abnormal contractions of your muscles, which you’ll perceive as spasms and pain.
  • Similar effects on the brain may produce seizures and/or altered mental status.
  • The blast caused by an electrical injury can rupture a lung or your eardrums. Lung failure, shortness of breath and difficulty hearing may result.
  • The jolt caused by an electrical injury can sufficiently throw you such that secondary injuries can occur, including broken bones.
  • Combinations of the above mechanisms can produce additional symptoms such as headache, visual disturbances and problems swallowing.
  • Death may occur. Fortunately, even with the “ultimate” electrical injury (a lightning strike), 90% of victims still survive.

A separate Straight, No Chaser will address treatment and prevention considerations related to electrical injuries. In the meantime, look before you get shocked.

Feel free to ask your SMA expert consultant any questions you may have on this topic.

Order your copy of Dr. Sterling’s new book Behind The Curtain: A Peek at Life from within the ER at jeffreysterlingbooks.com, iTunes, Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and wherever books are sold.

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