No Cell Phones Outside in a Storm?
Doctors Suggest Lightning Risk -- Weather Service Suggests 'Get Out of the Storm'
June 22, 2006 -- Is it safe to use cell phones outside during a
thunderstorm? A letter published in BMJ says "maybe not."
The letter comes from Ram Dhillon, FRCS, and two other experts in ear, nose,
and throat health (otorhinolaryngology, or otolaryngology, as it is called in
the U.S.). They work at Northwick Park Hospital in Middlesex, England.
Dhillon's team tells of a London teen struck by lightning while talking on
her cell phone in a park during a storm. The girl survived, and it's not clear
what role, if any, her cell phone played in her injuries.
"This rare phenomenon is a public health issue, and education is
necessary to highlight the risk of using mobile phones outdoors during stormy
weather," write Dhillon and colleagues.
Teen Struck by Lightning While on Cell Phone
The 15-year-old girl cited in the letter was seen being struck by lightning
while using her mobile phone in a large London park during stormy weather,
write Dhillon and colleagues.
The girl's heart stopped beating when the lightning struck. "She was
successfully resuscitated, but one year later she was a wheelchair user with
complex physical, cognitive, and emotional problems," the doctors
The girl also suffered hearing loss from a torn left eardrum. She had been
holding her phone on her left ear during the storm, the letter states.
While the doctors have no way of knowing if the cell phone worsened the
girl's injuries, that might be possible, they write.
Worse Injury Risk?
"If someone is struck by lightning the high resistance of human skin
results in lightning being conducted over the skin without entering the body;
this is known as flashover," write Dhillon and colleagues.
"Conductive materials in direct contact with the skin, such as liquids
or metallic objects, disrupt the flashover and result in internal injury, with
greater morbidity and mortality," they add. "Morbidity" means
illness or injury; "mortality" means death.
Dhillon and colleagues say they know of no similar cases in medical
literature, though they found three fatal cases reported in Asian newspapers
from 1999-2004. The doctors didn't confirm those newspaper reports through
When asked about this modern-day lightning risk, National Weather Service
spokesman and meteorologist Dennis Feltgen tells WebMD the girl's "main
problem was that she was standing out there" during the storm.
The safest thing to do in a storm is to seek cover, ideally in a large,
enclosed building, stresses the National Weather Service, which is part of the
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Simply being outside during a storm -- regardless of cell phone use -- made
her "an easy target," Feltgen says.
Feltgen says he'll leave the flashover science to the doctors, but the
amount of metal in a cell phone is "far too small to attract
WebMD also contacted CTIA -- The Wireless Association, an association for
wireless communications companies. Its public affairs director, Joe Farren,
didn't have an immediate response. His group will look into it, Farren tells