By LINDA A. JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer
Listen to an iPod during a storm and you may get more than
electrifying tunes. A Canadian jogger suffered wishbone-shaped chest
and neck burns, ruptured eardrums and a broken jaw when lightning
traveled through his music player's wires.
Last summer, a Colorado teen ended up with similar injuries when
lightning struck nearby as he was listening to his iPod while mowing
Emergency physicians report treating other patients with burns from
freak accidents while using personal electronic devices such as
beepers, Walkman players and laptop computers outdoors during storms.
Michael Utley, a former stockbroker from West Yarmouth, Mass., who
survived being struck by lightning while golfing, has tracked 13 cases
since 2004 of people hit while talking on cell phones. They are
described on his Web site, http://www.struckbylightning.org.
Contrary to some urban legends and media reports, electronic devices
don't attract lightning the way a tall tree or a lightning rod does.
"It's going to hit where it's going to hit, but once it contacts
metal, the metal conducts the electricity," said Dr. Mary Ann Cooper
of the American College of Emergency Physicians and an ER doctor at
University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago.
When lightning jumps from a nearby object to a person, it often
flashes over the skin. But metal in electronic devices -- or metal
jewelry or coins in a pocket -- can cause contact burns and
exacerbate the damage.
A spokeswoman for Apple Inc., the maker of iPods, declined to comment.
Packaging for iPods and some other music players do include warnings
against using them in the rain.
Lightning strikes can occur even if a storm is many miles away, so
lightning safety experts have been pushing the slogan "When thunder
roars, go indoors," said Cooper.
Jason Bunch, 18, says it wasn't even raining last July, but there was
a storm off in the distance. Lightning struck a nearby tree, shot off
and hit him.
Bunch, who was listening to Metallica while mowing the grass at his
home in Castle Rock, Colo., still has mild hearing damage in both
ears, despite two reconstructive surgeries to repair ruptured
eardrums. He had burns from the earphone wires on the sides of his
face, a nasty burn on his hip where the iPod had been in a pocket and
"a bad line up the side of my body," even though the iPod cord was
outside his shirt.
"It was a real miracle" he survived, said his mother, Kelly Risheill.
The Canadian jogger suffered worse injuries, according to a report in
Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.
The man, a 39-year-old dentist from the Vancouver area, was listening
to an iPod while jogging in a thunderstorm when, according to
witnesses, lightning hit a tree a couple of feet away and jumped to
his body. The strike threw the man about eight feet and caused
second-degree burns on his chest and left leg.
The electric current left red burn lines running from where the iPod
had been strapped to his chest up the sides of his neck. It ruptured
both ear drums, dislocated tiny ear bones that transmit sound waves,
and broke the man's jaw in four places, said Dr. Eric Heffernan, an
imaging specialist at Vancouver General Hospital.
The injury happened two summers ago and despite treatment, the man
still has less than 50 percent of normal hearing on each side, must
wear hearing aids and can't hear high-pitched sounds.
"He's a part-time musician, so that's kind of messed up his hobby as
well," Heffernan said.
Like the Colorado teen, the Canadian patient, who declined to be
interviewed or identified, has no memory of the lightning strike.
In another case a few years ago, electric current from a lightning
strike ran through a man's pager, burning both him and his girlfriend
who was leaning against him, said Dr. Vince Mosesso, an emergency doctor
at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Eardrum ruptures are considered the most common ear injury in
lightning-strike victims, occurring in 5 percent to 50 percent of
patients, according to various estimates -- whether or not an electronic
device is involved. A broken jaw is rare, doctors say.
On the Net: http://www.nejm.org
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.
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