Pain Is Only the Beginning of a Lightning Strike

Survivors detail a litany of unexplained effects: Charlotte Huff
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 23, 2017 12:01 PM CDT

(Newser) – "If you've ever put your finger in a light socket as a kid, multiply that feeling by a gazillion throughout your entire body." According to Justin Gauger, that's what it feels like to be struck by lightning. Because 90% of people hit by a lightning strike survive, victims—at least the ones who didn't lose consciousness—have been able to tell doctors and researchers about the initial pain, as well as the seizures, anxiety, headaches, personality changes, memory problems, and even the cataracts that follow the burnt skin. But the reason for these effects largely remains a mystery, Charlotte Huff writes at Mosaic. Why, for example, does Gauger feel as though the "words in my head are jumbled" after he was struck by lightning during a fishing trip in Arizona and suffered temporary paralysis and burns to a third of his body?

Researchers have so far gathered that electricity from lightning surrounds the body in a "flashover" effect and causes a "vapor explosion" when it comes into contact with sweat or raindrops on skin. A small amount of electricity can also enter the eyes, ears, and mouth to reach the brain and heart. But a lack of funding for research leaves plenty unexplained. One reason for this lack of funding is that deaths from lightning strikes have fallen in high-income countries with better education, housing construction, and jobs that have moved inside. But the same can't be said in countries like India and Uganda, where lightning deaths are still prevalent. As one researcher working to protect the vulnerable explains, "It's so overwhelming, I just want to quit. I don't see how we are ever going to be able to impact this." Huff's full piece includes more on her efforts. (Read more lightning stories.)

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