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iPod Dangerous During Thunderstorm

Ear Buds Conduct Lightning Through Ears, Head

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 12, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

July 12, 2007 -- Next time you're in a thunderstorm, skip the soundtrack on your personal music player.

The reason isn't aesthetics -- it's safety. Case in point: the 37-year-old, iPod-wearing Canadian man described in the July 12 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

The man's doctors, Eric J. Heffernan, MB, and colleagues say the man was jogging during a thunderstorm. A lightning bolt hit a tree that he was passing. As lightning often does, it jumped from the tree to the man in a phenomenon called a side flash, throwing the man 8 feet away.

Fortunately for humans, skin has high resistance to electric current. Unless something interrupts the flow, the lightning is often conducted over the surface of the body -- a "flashover."

This didn't happen to the Canadian jogger. His iPod didn't draw the lightning strike. But when the flashover hit, the iPod, resting against the man's sweaty skin, drew in the powerful electric current.

The man had burns along his chest and neck where his earphone wires lay. The insides of his ears also were burned -- and then the ear buds conducted the current into his head.

The man's jaw was broken on either side. His eardrums burst, and the tiny bones inside his ears were dislocated. One inner ear canal filled with blood.

Doctors were able to set the man's jaw from the inside and repair his eardrums.

The lesson, as the NEJM headline puts it: "Thunderstorms and iPods -- Not a Good iDea."

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SOURCE: Heffernan, E.J. The New England Journal of Medicine, July 12; vol 357: pp 198-199.

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