Struck By Lightning
Anyone who has survived a lightning strike has a story to tell.
That story usually starts with the air around them taking on an intense electrical charge that has every hair on their body stand on end moments before the lightning strikes them and travels through their body to contact the ground beneath them.
Lightning strike victims frequently enter cardiac arrest after being struck by lightning due to the voltage of electricity overriding the heart’s natural electrical rhythm with the equivalent of a massive overload that trips the circuit breaker and sends the heart into shutdown.
Think of the heart the same way you do your household power metre box. If the circuit breaker detects an overload of electricity, it trips the shutdown relay and cuts the supply to the house until you reset the breaker and fix the problem that caused the trip.
This state of shutdown means that the person has three minutes to receive lifesaving CPR before their brain cells start dying once deprived of oxygen-rich blood. The process of saving the life of a lightning strike victim is called providing CPR.
We have added a short hands-only CPR video clip for you to watch a demonstration of chest compressions only to the globally used Bee Gees soundtrack Stayin’ Alive, that ironically has the perfect beat count required to perform CPR effectively.
Hands-only CPR will provide the external chest compressions that move the blood around the body. However, without fresh oxygen from rescue breaths in the form of:
- Mouth to nose,
- Nose only
- Mask assisted ventilation
The brain will begin to die, and that damage is not repairable. The longer a person is without oxygen to the brain, the more brain damage will occur, and all other organ systems will fail and cease to do their specific jobs.
First Aid For Lightning Strike Cardiac Arrest
You will always approach any situation in which you provide First Aid as a First Aid Responder in the same manner. First, you will employ your DRSABCD and, where appropriate, provide CPR.
D: Check for any potential danger that could harm all parties involved.
R: Seek a Response of any kind from the victim by calling out to them, then firmly shaking their shoulders. If they respond, you only need to call an ambulance or get them to a hospital for a physical examination and treatment. Place them in the recovery position and monitor ABCs while reassuring them and getting as much information as you can about them for the ambulance crew.
S: Signal/Send for help. Call the emergency services or alert any bystanders who can assist you in obtaining medical assistance.
A: Airway, clear, check and open the airway to receive rescue breaths.
B: Breathing, watch and listen for breathing. If you need to give rescue breaths, ensure that you are giving the correct amount of air into the lungs, not over or under-inflating them.
C: Circulation/Compressions, check for a pulse and any heartbeat at the same time you are watching and listening for breathing. If the person is not breathing and has no heartbeat, begin the first series of 30 chest compressions and then deliver 2 rescue breaths.
Continue to provide CPR in the ratio of 30 chest compression to 2 rescue breaths until the person:
- Regains a heartbeat and is breathing unassisted
- Help arrives
- You are physically exhausted and unable to provide further first aid
- Twenty minutes have passed if you are a fit solo first aid responder.
D: A defibrillator or AED machine can be applied to the victim. All AED machines are automated, and you simply have to open the case and follow the automated voice instructions on where and how to place the pads.
Follow all the instructions and ensure nothing is touching the person when the machine instructs you to clear the body before it delivers the shock. Depending on the machine’s assessment of the heart, it may deliver more shocks and then instruct you to continue providing CPR while it monitors the heart activity.
Where no AED machine is available, continue CPR until the above criteria have been met.
Being struck by a high voltage current is going to have a significant impact on the human body. Water is a fantastic conductor and redistributor of electricity; therefore, electrical currents can create havoc in a human body that is around 60 percent water.
Cardiac arrest is usually the first sign of a direct lightning strike, but there are secondary issues you may need to address in the form of entry and exit point burns and bleeding from wounds obtained during a fall or as the result of external factors impacting the body.
An example of external factors would be a tree limb that was also struck and fell onto the victim, causing breaks, crush injuries or preventing the First Aid responder from safely offering assistance.
Secondary Symptoms After A Lightning Strike
Being struck by lightning isn’t something a person wakes up one morning and believes is a great idea. While a surprisingly high number of victims survive being struck by lightning, a host of short- and long-term effects may present for treatment or go unnoticed in the initial assessment sweep.
- Cardiac arrest
- Loss of hearing
- Loss of consciousness
- External burns to the skin
- Internal burns to organs and tissues
- Ear ringing
- Ruptured (bleeding) eardrums
- Impaired eyesight
- External factor trauma injuries
Avoid Becoming A Human Conductor
Common sense dictates that being outdoors or in a space that offers no immediate shelter from the storm instantly increases your chances of being struck by lightning.
Lighting is attracted to the highest point with a receptive electrical field. That means that while taller trees might surround you, you may have on your person an item that conducts and draws the current to you. Things like but not limited to:
- Mobile phones
- Air pods
- Golf Clubs.
- Baseball bats
- Camping equipment attached to a backpack
- Gardening tools, like rakes, hoes, axes, shovels etc.
Important Information and Knowledge
A victim struck by lightning will not retain an electrical charge. You are free to render First Aid without becoming electrocuted by proxy when you touch them.
Lightning can, does and likely will strike the same place twice, sometimes several times in succession; however, human eyes might not be able to distinguish how many times as the instinct is to close the eyes to protect them from the ultra-bright light produced and prevent blinding or burnt retinas as an automatic response.
Swimming in any body of water during a storm instantly increases your chances of becoming a human conductor.
Seawater has a high salt content making it a good conductor, the bolt of current penetrates vertically downward and fully dissipates around 10-15 feet below the surface. It is presently believed that the lethal current spreads horizontally approximately twice that distance at 20-30 feet from the strike point. However, the figures are a rough guide only. Factors like salinity levels, the temperature of the water, and conductive items in the water like boats, shark cages, chains, and anchors can all change on a case-by-case basis.
If you are near, in, or on the water when a storm whips up, seek shelter inside the boat, if covered.
If swimming in the water, get out onto dry land and find shelter.
If you do not have shelter above you, make yourself as small a target as possible. Squat down into a tight ball and present the smallest area possible.
Do not hide under trees in a storm. If camping, they call them widow makers for a reason. Ensure your campsite has no overhead trees and branches that could fall on you, your campsite and catch fire, your tent or any member of your camping party.
According to the CDC: “About 40 million lightning strikes hit the ground in the United States each year. But the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are less than one in a million, and almost 90% of all lightning strike victims survive. The odds of being struck multiple times is even less, with the record being seven times in one lifetime. There are some factors that can put you at greater risk for being struck, such as participating in outdoor recreational activities or working outside. Regional and seasonal differences can also affect your risk of being struck by lightning.”
First Aid For Life
First Aid skills, once learned, are a skill you retain for life. While technology continues to advance and protocols change, the basics are the same globally and, when applied correctly, allow you to potentially save a life at worst and prevent a situation from escalating into a medical emergency at best.
FACE is an accredited RTO specialising in providing First Aid courses Australia-wide. Please drop by our FACE Home page to find a venue and course near you. Need a little motivation to gain your certification? Peruse our FACE Blog page for a range of topics, and take our First Aid Quiz to test your general First Aid knowledge.