Heavy thunderstorms are threatening again in Germany today. The good news is that most people who are struck by lightning survive. But the heart, nerves, eyes, ears and psyche can suffer permanent damage. What happens when lightning strikes and how to protect yourself.
A man was struck by lightning in Essen earlier this week and suffered life-threatening injuries. The 56-year-old was revived and flown to a special clinic in a rescue helicopter. In view of the storm situation in many parts of Germany, there is a similar threat to other people. Nevertheless, it is relatively unlikely to be struck by lightning.
The electrical discharges are extremely dangerous – that’s true. “However, lightning does not always have to cost your life, as was previously believed,” said Thomas Raphael, lightning protection expert from VDE ABB (Committee for Lightning Protection and Lightning Research) in an interview with FOCUS Online during previous storms. Almost 200 people are injured by lightning in Germany every year and around ten die. “If the injured person is resuscitated immediately, his chances of survival are good,” explained the specialist. Unlike in an electrical accident, where the energy affects the body for a long time and the damage is therefore usually massive, the lightning effect only lasts a fraction of a second. Therefore, the chances of escaping with your life are high.
However, a lightning strike is not harmless for those who are struck. Permanent damage can result. In addition, long-term effects can occur, even without initial symptoms. Because high-voltage current is discharged in lightning – it can be up to 200,000 amperes. This can hurt both the body and the psyche. “The severity of the neuropsychological consequences in particular is often underestimated. They can even lead to disability,” said Raphael.
The consequences depend on how and where the lightning strikes the body. There are four options:
The skin burns where the current enters and exits. The so-called electricity brands are created. Then the current shoots through the whole body. If it hits the heart, for example, it can cause ventricular fibrillation and death in the worst case. “However, this danger only exists if the lightning strikes in the second in which the heart is in the vulnerable phase, i.e. it receives the natural, endogenous electrical impulse for the next beat,” said the lightning expert.
In addition, so-called flash figures can also occur. These are branched, dark marks on the skin and objects, similar to gunshot residue. Lightning leaves them when its energy does not enter the body, but goes around it (sliding transference).
The high voltage affects the body thermally (burns) and electrically. This is fatal for a specific reason: natural, electrical impulses set the pace for all nerve and muscle activities in the body. This is how you can imagine the damage that lightning current can cause:
All lightning injuries have one thing in common: the person affected cannot remember the impact itself, his memory only recovers after a few seconds at the earliest.
“Basically, the emergency doctor should be alerted every time there is a lightning strike,” recommends Raphael. So dial 112 immediately, even if there are no injuries at first glance. And: It is absolutely safe to touch the victim of the lightning.
Until the rescue service arrives, the well-known first aid rules apply:
Depending on the injury, the lightning victim is then treated in the clinic. “By the way, every lightning victim is first connected to an ECG in the hospital, even if they appear to be unharmed,” says Thomas Raphael. If the findings are unremarkable and there are no other signs of damage, the patient can go home.
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