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When lightning strikes – Rendering aid and the lasting effects of a strike

Friday, June 27th, 2014 5:50am MDT
Lightning strike (NOAA)

Responding quickly to lightning strike victims is key to helping them survive. (NOAA)

Knowing what to do when lightning strikes someone is critical to helping them survive.  As with many serious injuries, immediate action must be taken.  After the event, lightning strike victims oftentimes face a number of health and mental challenges.

From the National Weather Service:

600 AM MDT FRI Jun 27 2014

In Colorado cloud to ground lightning flashes occur nearly a half million times each year. With millions of visitors and extensive outdoor activities…it is not surprising that three people are killed each year in Colorado…and there are an average of 13 lightning injuries. While any death is tragic…injuries can be equally tragic and devastating to the family. For those who have a relative that suffers a significant disability from lightning…life changes forever. In addition to the physical pain and mental anguish suffered by the victim and their family…the incident may lead to a loss of income for the family. Over time…medical expenses for treatment may drain the assets of a family.

If someone is struck by lightning…it is important that they receive the appropriate medical attention immediately. Some deaths can be prevented if the victims are attended to promptly. Lightning victims do not carry an electrical charge and are safe to handle. First… have someone call 9-1-1 or your local ambulance service. Check to see that the victim is breathing and has a pulse… and continue to monitor the victim until help arrives. Cardiac arrest is the immediate cause of death in lightning fatalities. If necessary…begin cardio-pulmonary resuscitation…CPR.
Also…if possible move the victim to a safer place. Do not let the rescuers become lightning victims. Lightning can strike the same place twice.

Lightning strike victims may face many mental challenges that they will have to live with for the rest of their lives. When the brain is affected by a lightning strike…the person often has difficulty with many of the mental processes that most people take for granted. The person may suffer from short-term memory loss…and may have difficulty mentally storing new information and accessing old information. Victims may often find it very difficult to carry on more than one task at a time… and may be easily distracted. Their personality may change and they may become easily irritated.

Victims often becoming easily fatigued and may become exhausted after only a few hours of work. This may be because mental tasks that were once automatic may now require intense concentration to accomplish. Although some victims may sleep excessively at first…after a few weeks many find it difficult to sleep more than two or three hours at a time.

Another common long-term problem for survivors is pain. Medically…pain is difficult to quantify. Lightning strike victims often suffer irreparable nerve damage that causes intense pain that affects the ability to function. Many survivors complain of chronic headaches…some of which are very intense and debilitating.

Lightning Strike and Electric Shock Survivors International…is a support group to individuals and families that are struggling with life after a lightning injury. Helpful information is available at their web address:


For additional information about lightning or lightning safety… visit NOAA’s Lightning Safety Awareness web site at:


Lightning Safety and Wildfire Awareness Series:

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