Thursday, October 4, 2007

Thunderstorms and iPods

Letters have been circulating in the New England Journal of Medicine about the potential dangers of iPods (and MP3 players) and their ear wires attracting lightning to strike during a thunderstorm. An initial report of a jogger wearing his iPod and being struck by lightning came from Vancouver, BC. The patient did not lose consciousness, but he had amnesia, perforated eardrums and a fractured mandible (jawbone) after the lightning current struck him. Was the iPod to blame?

There is no evidence that a metal or electronic apparatus carried or worn on the body makes a person more attractive to lightning. Rocking along to an iPod may prevent the user from hearing thunder. That is a danger because there is no place outside that is safe when thunderstorms are in the area. Under a tree is the worst place to be and when you hear thunder you should not be outside at all.

It is possible that the iPod wires actually conducted electricity away from the patient's ears and away from his heart where the lightning could have killed him. Skin offers no impedance to electricity and will conduct it readily. The patient had external burns where the ear wires laid against his cheek and neck but no burns inside the ear canal, another clue that the iPod might have conducted the energy away.

In summary, the experts believe the MP3 player may have actually saved this guy. If common sense were as common as the iPod, there would be fewer joggers in thunderstorms.

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