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Wilderness Medical Society Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Lightning Injuries

Published:August 02, 2012DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wem.2012.05.016
      To provide guidance to clinicians about best practices, the Wilderness Medical Society convened an expert panel to develop evidence-based guidelines for the treatment and prevention of lightning injuries. These guidelines include a review of the epidemiology of lightning strikes and recommendations for the prevention of lightning strikes, along with treatment recommendations organized by organ system. Recommendations are graded based on the quality of supporting evidence according to criteria put forth by the American College of Chest Physicians.

      Key words

      Introduction

      Lightning occurs nearly 50 times per second worldwide.
      National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
      Lightning Climatology.
      Approximately one fifth of these flashes result in ground strikes. Internationally, an estimated 24,000 fatalities with 10 times as many injuries occur annually as a result of lightning.
      • Holle R.
      Annual rates of lightning fatalities by country.
      • Cherington M.
      • Walker J.m.
      • Boyson M.
      • Glancy R.
      • Hedegaard H.
      • Clark S.
      Closing the gap on the actual numbers of lightning casualties and deaths.
      To provide guidance to clinicians and prehospital providers and to disseminate knowledge in this area, the Wilderness Medical Society (WMS) convened an expert panel to develop evidence-based guidelines for the treatment and prevention of lightning injuries. The WMS previously published guidelines on lightning injuries in 2006.
      • Forgey W.W.
      Wilderness Medical Society
      The goal of this review is to update those guidelines with relevant evidence-based information. However, it must be recognized that the nature of lightning injuries often limits the available evidence to case reports and case series.

      Methods

      A panel was convened at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the WMS in Snowmass, CO. Members were selected based on clinical or research experience. The lead author identified articles through the PUBMED databases using a key word search with the following terms: lightning, lightning strike, lightning injury, Lichtenberg, and keraunoparalysis. This was supplemented by a hand search of these articles. The amassed evidence was then reviewed and graded for quality by the panel. The panel used the American College of Chest Physicians (Table 1)
      • Guyatt G.
      • Gutterman D.
      • Baumann M.H.
      • et al.
      Grading strength of recommendations and quality of evidence in clinical guidelines: report from an American College of Chest Physicians task force.
      classification scheme for grading evidence and recommendations. Injuries and recommended treatment strategies are organized by organ system.
      Table 1ACCP classification scheme for grading evidence and recommendations in clinical guidelines
      • Guyatt G.
      • Gutterman D.
      • Baumann M.H.
      • et al.
      Grading strength of recommendations and quality of evidence in clinical guidelines: report from an American College of Chest Physicians task force.
      GradeDescriptionBenefits vs risks and burdensMethodological quality of supporting evidence
      1AStrong recommendation, high-quality evidenceBenefits clearly outweigh risks and burdens or vice versaRCTs without important limitations or overwhelming evidence from observational studies
      1BStrong recommendation, moderate-quality evidenceBenefits clearly outweigh risks and burdens or vice versaRCTs with important limitations or exceptionally strong evidence from observational studies
      1CStrong recommendation, low-quality or very low quality evidenceBenefits clearly outweigh risks and burdens or vice versaObservational studies or case series
      2AWeak recommendation, high-quality evidenceBenefits closely balanced with risks and burdensRCTs without important limitations or overwhelming evidence from observational studies
      2BWeak recommendation, moderate-quality evidenceBenefits closely balanced with risks and burdensRCTs with important limitations or exceptionally strong evidence from observational studies
      2CWeak recommendation, low-quality or very low quality evidenceUncertainty in the estimates of benefits, risks and burden; benefits, risk and burden may be closely balancedObservational studies or case series
      ACCP, American College of Chest Physicians; RCT, randomized controlled trial.

      Epidemiology

      Regional Considerations: Weather and Geography

      Lightning strikes are not uniformly distributed around the Earth (Figure 1). Regions with frequent thunderstorms have more lightning strikes. Thunderstorms are formed by 3 atmospheric elements: moisture, warm air on the surface of the earth, and a lifting wind. As the warm, moisture-laden air is pushed upward by vertical updraft, it condenses and cools, forming cumulonimbus clouds. Water freezes into ice particles near the top of this cloud. It is believed that the movement of these ice particles forms an electrical gradient (or differential), which is eventually discharged as lightning.
      National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
      Lightning Climatology.
      Figure thumbnail gr1
      Figure 1Worldwide density of lightning strikes. The Lightning Imaging Sensor global lightning distribution image was obtained from NASA's EOSDIS through the Global Hydrology Resource Center, Huntsville, AL. http://ghrc.nsstc.nasa.gov/.
      In addition to prevailing weather patterns, geography is also a determining factor in the location and frequency of thunderstorms. Central Africa has the greatest incidence of lightning strikes because of its mountainous terrain coupled with moist airflow from the Atlantic Ocean. This leads to year-round thunderstorms.

      Christian HJ. Global frequency and distribution of lightning as observed from space. American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2001, abstract AE21A-01.

      Worldwide, rural populations have been at greatest risk. Demographically this risk has been attributed to higher occupational exposure (rural farmers). These populations typically do not have access to substantial buildings that could provide shelter.
      • Holle R.
      Annual rates of lightning fatalities by country.
      Although rare, lightning is possible even if the overlying sky is blue (so-called “bolt from the blue”).
      • Cherington M.
      • Krider E.P.
      • Yarnell P.R.
      • Breed D.W.
      A bolt from the blue: lightning strike to the head.
      This occurs in sunny conditions, usually after a storm, when strikes can return to areas from which the storm has passed, posing a risk to people who return to outdoor activity too soon. Lightning is also possible in snowstorms. Graupel (snow pellets) heralds weather favorable to lightning formation, as ice and snow pellets are believed to generate positive and negative charges as they collide, ultimately providing the electrical gradient that facilitates lightning formation.
      • Cherington M.
      • Breed D.W.
      • Yarnell P.R.
      • Smith W.E.
      Lightning injuries during snowy conditions.

      Trends in the United States

      The incidence of lightning-related deaths in the United States has declined consistently during the past 50 years to approximately 40 deaths per year.
      National Weather Service
      Medical Aspects of Lightning.
      An estimated 400 lightning injuries occur annually based on data averaged over the last decade.
      National Weather Service
      Medical Aspects of Lightning.
      In comparison, approximately 70 flood-related deaths and 30 avalanche-related deaths occur yearly.
      National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
      Weather Fatalities.
      Colorado Avalanche Information Center
      Avalanche Accident Statistics.
      A demographic study of lightning strike victims reveals that greater than 80% of victims are male.
      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
      Lightning-associated deaths—United States, 1980–1995.
      Most deaths occur in individuals 20 to 45 year of age.
      • Adekoya N.
      • Nolte K.B.
      Struck-by-lightning deaths in the United States.
      More than 90% of incidents occur between May and September.
      • Adekoya N.
      • Nolte K.B.
      Struck-by-lightning deaths in the United States.
      Florida and Texas have accounted for nearly a quarter of all lightning-related deaths.
      • Adekoya N.
      • Nolte K.B.
      Struck-by-lightning deaths in the United States.
      Lightning fatalities per state are reported in Figure 2. In the United States, the lifetime risk of being struck by lightning is estimated at 1:10,000.
      National Weather Service
      Medical Aspects of Lightning.
      Figure thumbnail gr2
      Figure 2Lightning fatalities by state, 2001–2010.
      Map prepared from NOAA's Storm Data by Ron L Holle.

      Physics and Physiology

      Lightning can be both negatively and positively charged and can take the form of both direct and alternating current depending on circumstance. However, lightning does not cause the muscle tetany seen with alternating currents of other electrical injuries. A bolt of lightning has a massive current ranging from 30,000 to 110,000 A, although such currents are only applied for 10 to 100 ms.
      • Cooper M.A.
      • Holle R.L.
      Mechanisms of lightning injury should affect lightning safety messages.
      Energy transfer to the body is therefore limited.
      Lightning injuries are classified as direct strike, contact injury, side splash, or ground current.
      • Cooper M.A.
      • Holle R.L.
      Mechanisms of lightning injury should affect lightning safety messages.
      A direct strike occurs when there is an uninterrupted connection between a lightning bolt and an individual; direct strikes are relatively rare, accounting for approximately 5% of lightning strikes involving people.
      • Cooper M.A.
      • Holle R.L.
      Mechanisms of lightning injury should affect lightning safety messages.
      Contact injury occurs when a person is touching an object that is struck. Side splash accounts for one third of lightning injuries and occurs when the current “splashes” or jumps from a nearby object to the recipient's body; such splashes follow the path of least resistance when compared with the initially struck object such as a tree. Ground current, also known as step voltage, occurs when lightning strikes an object or the ground near a person and travels through the ground from the strike point to the victim. This mechanism accounts for nearly half of lightning injuries.
      • Cooper M.A.
      • Holle R.L.
      Mechanisms of lightning injury should affect lightning safety messages.
      A fifth mechanism of lightning injury has been recently reported. The “upward streamer” describes when current passes up from the ground, through the victim, without a nearby ground strike; ultimately it is postulated that such a current does not become part of a completed lightning channel.
      • Cooper M.A.
      A fifth mechanism of lightning injury.
      Lightning electricity, as with all electrical energy, will travel the path of least resistance. In body tissues, the order of least to greatest resistance is as follows: nerve < blood < muscle < skin < fat < bone.

      Prevention

      Evidence-based guidelines are limited regarding lightning prevention and safety. The following recommendations represent opinion from this panel or from previously published guidelines.
      • Zafren K.
      • Durrer B.
      • Herry J.P.
      • Brugger H.
      ICAR and UIAA MEDCOM
      Lightning injuries: prevention and on-site treatment in mountains and remote areas Official guidelines of the International Commission for Mountain Emergency Medicine and the Medical Commission of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (ICAR and UIAA MEDCOM).
      • Zimmermann C.
      • Cooper M.A.
      • Holle R.L.
      Lightning safety guidelines.
      • Cooper M.A.
      • Holle R.
      • Lopez R.
      Recommendations for lightning safety.
      National Lightning Safety Institute
      Personal Lightning Safety.

      Behavioral Strategies

      No place is absolutely safe from lightning. However, individuals can choose safer places in an effort to reduce their risk of lightning strike. “When thunder roars, go indoors” is the currently recommended safety maxim of the National Weather Service. In essence, if one can hear thunder, then there is a risk of lightning strikes and one should seek shelter immediately. As substantial shelter is rarely available in the wilderness, hearing thunder in this setting should trigger an individual to immediately avoid or leave areas that are high risk for lightning strikes, such as ridgelines or summits, and to avoid tall objects such as ski lifts, cell phone towers, or isolated trees. One should observe for changing weather patterns that could indicate a developing thunderstorm: building cumulonimbus clouds, increasing winds, and darkening skies. Previous rules have relied on timing lightning flashes with thunder to estimate distance from an approaching storm. Such calculations may engender a false sense of security either from incorrect calculations or incorrect pairing of a given lightning flash with the correct thunderclap. Individuals should instead rely on observing signs of impending storms and seeking cover accordingly. Individuals should wait a minimum of 30 minutes after hearing the last thunderclap before resuming outdoor activity. Waiting 30 minutes should allow for the trailing edge of the thunderstorm to move the estimated 10 miles needed to establish an appropriate buffer zone. Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Shelter

      There is no absolutely safe place from lightning—some locations are safer than others. When possible, shelter should be sought in the largest enclosed building available away from doors or windows. Another option is in a metal-topped vehicle with windows and doors closed; convertibles with fabric tops are not protective.

      Holle R. Lightning-caused deaths and injuries in the vicinity of vehicles. Third Conference on Meteorological Applications of Lightning Data; 88th Annual Meeting of the American Meterological Society. January 20–24, 2008. New Orleans, LA.

      As this option is markedly limited in the wilderness setting, this panel recommends seeking a sheltered area inside a deep cave, far into a dense forest, or in a deep ravine; these features represent a safer alternative than remaining in an open, exposed area. Shallow caves, solitary trees, or open shelters (such as a picnic shelter, dugout, canopy, or lean-to) should be avoided because of the risk of side splash and ground current.
      • Bandara K.
      Lightning hazards: impacts and responses of the public.
      • Rakov V.A.
      Lightning protection of structures and personal safety.
      Tents do not provide adequate protection from lightning.
      • Zack F.
      • Hammer U.
      • Klett I.
      • Wegener R.
      Myocardial injury due to lightning.
      When possible, the safest shelters are a building followed by a hard-top vehicle. Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Lighting Position

      Take this position when lightning strike is imminent. Signs of imminent strike include a blue haze around objects or individuals (St. Elmo's fire), static electricity over hair or skin, an ozone smell, or a nearby crackling sound.
      The lightning position involves sitting or crouching with knees and feet close together to create only one point of contact with the ground (Figure 3). If standing, have feet touching. If sitting, lift feet off the ground. Attempt to minimize the risk of ground current injury by insulating oneself from the ground; sit on a pack (remove any metal from the pack), a dry coiled rope, or a rolled foam sleeping pad. This is a strategy of last resort, as it is a difficult position to maintain for a long period of time, and should not be relied on as primary prevention but may reduce the risk of injury from an imminent lightning strike.
      • Roeder W.
      Analysis of short notice outdoor lightning risk reduction and comments on why it should not be taught.
      Recommendation grade: 2C.

      Group Safety

      This panel recommends the separation of group members by greater than 20 feet to limit potential mass casualties, as lightning can jump up to 15 feet between objects. Although each individual should be aware of lightning safety, groups should develop a specific lightning safety plan. Such a plan accounts for local weather patterns, current weather forecast, local terrain, and predetermined available shelter and evacuation routes.
      • Zimmermann C.
      • Cooper M.A.
      • Holle R.L.
      Lightning safety guidelines.
      • Cooper M.A.
      • Holle R.
      • Lopez R.
      Recommendations for lightning safety.
      A preestablished plan should mitigate the chaos of evacuating a crowd during a lightning storm. Further examples of lightning safety plans are available online through the National Lightning Safety Institute and the National Weather Service.
      National Lightning Safety Institute
      Personal Lightning Safety.
      National Weather Service
      Lightning Risk Reduction Outdoors.
      Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Lightning Detection Technology

      In the United States numerous commercial services are available that can provide automatic notifications when nearby lightning is detected by the National Lightning Detection Network.
      • Holle R.H.
      • López R.E.
      National Severe Storms Laboratory
      Overview of real-time lightning detection systems and their meteorological uses.
      • Kithil R.
      An Overview of Lightning Detection Equipment.
      Automatic notices of lightning activity are transmitted by e-mail, text, or cell phone to a predetermined individual. As cell phone reception is rarely available in the wilderness, personal lightning detection devices are an alternative option that does not rely on cellular technology. These devices are about the size of a pager, are easy to carry, and can detect lightning as far away as 75 miles. The device immediately signals the person of lightning activity and its distance by beeps, flashing lights, or a text message. This technology can be used to augment (but not supersede) a lightning safety plan. It should be noted that the available data on the efficacy of this technology are not peer reviewed and are largely based on manufacturer testimonials. Recommendation grade: 2C.

      Lightning in a Mountain Environment

      The panel strongly recommends the avoidance of peaks and ridgelines in the afternoon as thunderstorms are most frequent during this time period. A common safety adage is “up by noon and down by 2” meaning that hikers and climbers should be off peaks and ridgelines by 2:00 pm. If caught in a thunderstorm, climbers should tie-off individually as lightning is able to conduct over wet climbing ropes and may affect both climber and belayer. Individuals should discard metal objects such as ski poles or mountaineering axes to avoid contact burns.
      Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Lightning in a Water Environment

      This panel recommends that individuals exit the water and seek shelter expeditiously if caught swimming during a lightning storm. When rafting or kayaking, move to shore and away from the water's edge as soon as possible. When boating, seek shelter below deck after locking off the helm.
      • Becker W.J.
      Boating: Lightning Protection: University of Florida; 1992.
      If no shelter is available below, tie into a lifeline. Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Injuries and Treatment

      Triage and Resuscitation

      The mechanism of sudden death from lightning strike is simultaneous cardiac and respiratory arrest. The pathophysiology is classically described as an initial asystolic arrest caused by the simultaneous depolarization of all myocardial cells. Ventricular fibrillation may also be observed.
      • Taussig H.B.
      “Death” from lightning and the possibility of living again.
      Cardiac automaticity, typically in the form of sinus bradycardia, precedes recovery of the respiratory system. As the medullary respiratory center remains paralyzed despite return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC), a second cardiac arrest may occur if ventilation is not supported. Animal models corroborate this paradigm.
      • Andrews C.D.M.
      Effects of lighting on mammalian tissue.
      Death is rare should a victim survive the initial lightning strike.
      • Cooper M.A.
      Lightning injuries: prognostic signs for death.

      Reverse triage

      As ROSC precedes resolution of respiratory arrest, a patient's ventilation should be supported as soon as possible. This highlights the need for a “reverse triage” system for lightning strike victims in which priority is initially given to those individuals without vital signs or spontaneous respirations.
      • Taussig H.B.
      “Death” from lightning and the possibility of living again.
      In instances of multiple lightning casualties, we recommend using a “reverse triage” strategy. Recommendation grade 1C.

      Resuscitation

      Victims of lightning strike do not carry residual electrical charge; it is therefore safe to resuscitate these individuals immediately should the scene otherwise be deemed safe. Basic and advanced life support algorithms, including trauma when appropriate, remain the standard of care.
      ECC Committee, Subcommittees and Task Forces of the American Heart Association
      2005 American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care.
      • Driscoll P.
      • Wardrope J.
      ATLS: past, present, and future.
      There are numerous case reports of survival with intact neurologic function in lightning strike victims who received immediate resuscitation; mortality from cardiac arrest is lower in the lightning strike victims when compared with cardiac arrest in the general population.
      • Taussig H.B.
      “Death” from lightning and the possibility of living again.
      • Cooper M.A.
      Lightning injuries: prognostic signs for death.
      • Courtman S.P.
      • Wilson P.M.
      • Mok Q.
      Case report of a 13-year-old struck by lightning.
      • Fahmy F.S.
      • Brinsden M.D.
      • Smith J.
      • Frame J.D.
      Lightning: the multisystem group injuries.
      We recommend following current advanced life support guidelines for lightning strike victims requiring resuscitation.
      ECC Committee, Subcommittees and Task Forces of the American Heart Association
      2005 American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and Emergency Cardiovascular Care.
      • Driscoll P.
      • Wardrope J.
      ATLS: past, present, and future.
      Recommendation grade: 1B.

      Cardiovascular

      The effect of a lightning strike on the cardiovascular system is variable, ranging from benign electrocardiographic (ECG) changes to sudden death. Cardiovascular collapse is more commonly associated with direct strikes whereas more transient ECG changes are seen with contact strikes or ground current.
      • Lichtenberg R.
      • Dries D.
      • Ward K.
      • Marshall W.
      • Scanlon P.
      Cardiovascular effects of lightning strikes.
      Initial cardiovascular effects can include ST elevation, prolongation of the QT interval, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation, and elevated cardiac markers.
      • Lichtenberg R.
      • Dries D.
      • Ward K.
      • Marshall W.
      • Scanlon P.
      Cardiovascular effects of lightning strikes.
      • Jackson S.H.
      • Parry D.J.
      Lightning and the heart.
      • Dronacahrya L.
      • Poudel R.
      Lightning induced atrial fibrillation.
      Most of these findings resolve within 3 days, although pericarditis may recur several months after the initial injury.
      • Lichtenberg R.
      • Dries D.
      • Ward K.
      • Marshall W.
      • Scanlon P.
      Cardiovascular effects of lightning strikes.
      Although ST elevation may suggest a localizing vascular lesion, coronary angiography may be normal.
      • Saglam H.
      • Yavuz Y.
      • Yurumez Y.
      • Ozkececi G.
      • Kilit C.
      A case of acute myocardial infarction due to indirect lightning strike.
      In one instance, a victim suffered cardiogenic shock and required an intraaortic balloon pump. However, her cardiac function normalized after 72 hours.
      • Rivera J.
      • Romero K.A.
      • González-Chon O.
      • Uruchurtu E.
      • Marquez M.F.
      • Guevara M.
      Severe stunned myocardium after lightning strike.
      It is important to note that delayed-onset symptoms and ECG changes have been reported as far out as 3 days.
      • Lichtenberg R.
      • Dries D.
      • Ward K.
      • Marshall W.
      • Scanlon P.
      Cardiovascular effects of lightning strikes.
      • Palmer A.B.
      Lightning injury causing prolongation of the Q-T interval.
      Labile blood pressures and autonomic instability are possible after lightning strikes and may persist for weeks to months.
      • Weeramanthri T.S.
      • Puddey I.B.
      • Beilin L.J.
      Lightning strike and autonomic failure—coincidence or causally related?.
      • Grubb B.P.
      • Karabin B.
      New onset postural tachycardia syndrome following lightning injury.

      Initial cardiac evaluation

      Once evacuated, we recommend that high-risk patients (Table 2),
      • Champion H.R.
      • Sacco W.J.
      • Copes W.S.
      • Gann D.S.
      • Gennarelli T.A.
      • Flanagan M.E.
      A revision of the Trauma Score.
      including those suffering a direct strike or those complaining of chest pain or dyspnea, receive a screening ECG and echocardiography. Recommendation grade: 1C.
      Table 2High-risk indicators in lightning strike victims
      Suspected direct strike
      Loss of consciousness
      Focal neurologic complaint
      Chest pain or dyspnea
      Major trauma defined by Revised Trauma Score <4
      • Champion H.R.
      • Sacco W.J.
      • Copes W.S.
      • Gann D.S.
      • Gennarelli T.A.
      • Flanagan M.E.
      A revision of the Trauma Score.
      Cranial burns, leg burns or burns >10% TBSA
      Pregnancy
      TBSA, total body surface area.

      Cardiac markers

      Although elevated cardiac markers are commonly reported after lightning strike, such abnormalities are not typically prognostic and do not correlate with anatomic lesions. Routine screening of cardiac markers therefore has limited clinical utility.
      • Lichtenberg R.
      • Dries D.
      • Ward K.
      • Marshall W.
      • Scanlon P.
      Cardiovascular effects of lightning strikes.
      • Saglam H.
      • Yavuz Y.
      • Yurumez Y.
      • Ozkececi G.
      • Kilit C.
      A case of acute myocardial infarction due to indirect lightning strike.
      • Alyan O.
      • Ozdemir O.
      • Tufekcioglu O.
      • Geyik B.
      • Aras D.
      • Demirkan D.
      Myocardial injury due to lightning strike—a case report.
      Recommendation grade: 2C.

      Admission criteria

      Patients suffering a direct strike or those with an abnormal screening ECG or echocardiogram should be monitored with telemetry for a minimum of 24 hours.
      • Lichtenberg R.
      • Dries D.
      • Ward K.
      • Marshall W.
      • Scanlon P.
      Cardiovascular effects of lightning strikes.
      • Rivera J.
      • Romero K.A.
      • González-Chon O.
      • Uruchurtu E.
      • Marquez M.F.
      • Guevara M.
      Severe stunned myocardium after lightning strike.
      • Palmer A.B.
      Lightning injury causing prolongation of the Q-T interval.
      • Dundon B.K.
      • Puri R.
      • Leong D.P.
      • Worthley M.I.
      Takotsubo cardiomyopathy following lightning strike.
      Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Return precautions

      As delayed or recurring cardiac injuries such as pericarditis or cardiomyopathy are possible,
      • Lichtenberg R.
      • Dries D.
      • Ward K.
      • Marshall W.
      • Scanlon P.
      Cardiovascular effects of lightning strikes.
      discharged patients should be counseled to return should they experience new chest pain or dyspnea. Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Neurologic

      Neurologic injuries are common after lightning strike and range from the transient and incidental to life-threatening. These injuries have been categorized based on symptom onset and duration.
      • Cherington M.
      Spectrum of neurologic complications of lightning injuries.
      As treatment strategies are limited for permanent neurologic injury resulting from lightning strikes, long-term neurorehabilitation is often the sole treatment option for those with permanent disability.
      • Cherington M.
      Neurorehabilitation of the multifaceted and complicated neurologic problems associated with lightning and electrical injuries.
      • Yarnell P.R.
      Neurorehabilitation of cerebral disorders following lightning and electrical trauma.

      Transient neurologic symptoms with immediate onset

      This group accounts for the majority of neurologic manifestations of lightning injury. These include loss of consciousness, seizure, headache, paresthesia or weakness, confusion, and memory loss.

      Keraunoparalysis

      Transient paralysis after lightning strike has been documented in numerous case reports and is postulated to result from an overstimulation of the autonomic nervous system leading to vascular spasm.
      • Cooper M.A.
      Lightning injuries: prognostic signs for death.
      • Cherington M.
      Spectrum of neurologic complications of lightning injuries.
      • ten Duis H.J.
      • Klasen H.J.
      • Reenalda P.E.
      Keraunoparalysis, a ‘specific’ lightning injury.
      Typically, lower limbs are affected more than upper limbs. Signs and symptoms include pulselessness, pallor or cyanosis, and motor and sensory loss in the affected extremities. Keraunoparalysis typically resolves within several hours. As keraunoparalysis may mimic a pulseless victim, responders must be vigilant about checking for a central pulse before starting cardiopulmonary resuscitation. We recommend hospital observation for keraunoparalysis. This phenomenon typically resolves spontaneously but may indicate more serious underlying trauma.
      • Cherington M.
      Spectrum of neurologic complications of lightning injuries.
      Recommendation grade: 1C.
      Keraunoparalysis can mimic a spinal injury; thus spinal precautions should be maintained and diagnostic imaging should be performed to rule out spinal cord pathology if neurologic deficits persist despite resolution of pallor or pulselessness.
      • Driscoll P.
      • Wardrope J.
      ATLS: past, present, and future.
      Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Permanent neurologic symptoms with immediate onset

      Permanent neurologic injury can manifest immediately after lightning strike, such as hypoxic encephalopathy resulting from cardiopulmonary arrest.
      • Cherington M.
      Spectrum of neurologic complications of lightning injuries.
      Lightning-induced intracranial hemorrhage may also occur instantly, most commonly affecting the basal ganglia or brainstem; this is believed to be attributable to preferential conduction of electricity through these areas of the brain.
      • Cherington M.
      Spectrum of neurologic complications of lightning injuries.
      • Cherington M.
      Lightning injuries.
      • Cherington M.
      Central nervous system complications of lightning and electrical injuries.
      Direct strikes to the head demonstrated higher fatality rates when compared with indirect strikes in one series.
      • Kleinschmidt-DeMasters B.K.
      Neuropathology of lightning-strike injuries.
      Less common immediate-onset permanent neurologic injuries include peripheral nerve lesions, cerebral infarction, and cerebral salt-wasting syndrome.
      • Kleinschmidt-DeMasters B.K.
      Neuropathology of lightning-strike injuries.
      • Emet M.
      • Caner I.
      • Cakir M.
      • Aslan S.
      • Cakir Z.
      Lightning injury may cause abrupt cerebral salt wasting syndrome.
      • Frayne J.H.
      • Gilligan B.S.
      Neurological sequelae of lightning stroke.

      Delayed neurologic syndromes

      A multitude of delayed neurologic syndromes have been reported in victims struck by lightning. However, causality to lightning strike has not been clearly established, and the underlying pathophysiology is not yet understood.
      • Cherington M.
      Central nervous system complications of lightning and electrical injuries.
      • Davidson G.S.
      • Deck J.H.
      Delayed myelopathy following lightning strike: a demyelinating process.
      • Belsole R.J.
      • Smith A.A.
      Reflex sympathetic dystrophy: “gate” closed by lightning.
      • O'Brien C.F.
      Involuntary movement disorders following lightning and electrical injuries.
      Progressive myelopathy has been described, resulting in weakness or sensory loss in the weeks to months after initial injury.
      • Cherington M.
      Spectrum of neurologic complications of lightning injuries.
      • Davidson G.S.
      • Deck J.H.
      Delayed myelopathy following lightning strike: a demyelinating process.
      Both animal models and human case studies have demonstrated the highest incidence of damage in the cervical and thoracic regions of the spinal cord.
      • Davidson G.S.
      • Deck J.H.
      Delayed myelopathy following lightning strike: a demyelinating process.
      • Lakshminarayanan S.
      • Chokroverty S.
      • Eshkar N.
      • Grewal R.
      The spinal cord in lightning injury: a report of two cases.
      We recommend that anyone with delayed neurologic symptoms seek follow-up and treatment recommendations from a neurologist as soon as medically feasible. Recommendation grade: 2C.

      Central nervous system injuries associated with secondary trauma and blast effect

      Any person having been struck by lightning should have a thorough examination for traumatic head injuries. All lightning strike victims with loss of consciousness or a persistently abnormal neurologic examination should receive a computed tomographic scan of the head.
      • Cherington M.
      Spectrum of neurologic complications of lightning injuries.
      • Aslan S.
      • Yilmaz S.
      • Karcioglu O.
      Lightning: an unusual cause of cerebellar infarction.
      Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Dermatologic

      Lichtenberg figure

      A transient “ferning” or “feathering” pattern known as the Lichtenberg figure is pathognomonic for lightning strike. It is not a burn, although its pathogenesis remains controversial.
      • Cherington M.
      • McDonough G.
      • Olson S.
      • Russon R.
      • Yarnell P.R.
      Lichtenberg figures and lightning: case reports and review of the literature.
      This finding generally presents within 1 hour of lightning strike, and resolves in less than 24 hours. No histologic change or damage has been found on biopsy, although pigment changes in the deeper layers of the skin may persist.
      • Resnik B.I.
      • Wetli C.V.
      Lichtenberg figures.
      Treatment for these figures is not required, but their presence requires evaluation for other effects of lightning strike. Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Burns

      Burns associated with lightning injury include linear burns, punctate burns, and full-thickness burns. Linear burns are typically partial-thickness burns that result as sweat vaporizes into steam when lightning travels over the skin (also known as “flashover”). Areas that have heavy sweat concentration such as the underarms and beneath the breasts tend to be most affected.
      • Cooper M.A.
      Emergent care of lightning and electrical injuries.
      Punctate burns are clustered circular burns believed to be the result of current passing out from the underlying deep tissue. An example is the “tip-toe” sign; these are small (usually <1 cm), full-thickness burns found at the distal toes or sole of the foot. These burns are thought to result from current exiting the body. Punctate burns can also be caused by water droplets on the skin (from sweat or rain) becoming superheated and turning to steam from the energy of a lightning strike. Larger full-thickness burns are typically found in areas where the skin is in direct contact with synthetic fabric that melts onto skin or a metal object that is heated by the electrical energy of the lightning strike.
      • Herrero F.
      • Garcia-Morato V.
      • Salinas V.
      • Alonso S.
      An unusual case of lightning injury: a melted silver necklace causing a full thickness linear burn.
      Full-thickness burns requiring skin grafting are uncommon; only 10% of lightning strike victims required skin grafting in a case series of 16 patients treated in a burn unit.
      • Maghsoudi H.
      • Adyani Y.
      • Ahmadian N.
      Electrical and lightning injuries.
      It is worth noting that the presence of cranial burns predicted a threefold increase in mortality in one series and these patients were twice as likely to suffer cardiac arrest.
      • Cooper M.A.
      Lightning injuries: prognostic signs for death.
      In limited case series, superficial burns related to lightning that involve less than 20% of total body surface area tend to heal quickly and may be treated with routine burn care.
      • Maghsoudi H.
      • Adyani Y.
      • Ahmadian N.
      Electrical and lightning injuries.
      • Matthews M.S.
      • Fahey A.L.
      Plastic surgical considerations in lighting injuries.
      • Selvaggi G.
      • Monstrey S.
      • Van Landuyt K.
      • Hamdi M.
      • Blondeel P.
      Rehabilitation of burn injured patients following lightning and electrical trauma.
      Recommendation grade: 1C.
      If caught in a storm, remove metal objects such as watches, belt buckles, and necklaces in an effort to limit contact burns.
      • Herrero F.
      • Garcia-Morato V.
      • Salinas V.
      • Alonso S.
      An unusual case of lightning injury: a melted silver necklace causing a full thickness linear burn.
      Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Eye

      Ocular injuries are common after lightning strike and may affect the anterior and posterior chambers. Damage may result from a number of mechanisms including passage of current through the lens, blunt and blast trauma, vasoconstriction, or heat. The lens is commonly injured after lightning strike. Cataracts, often bilateral, comprise the majority of these injuries although their exact incidence is not reliably known.
      • Sommer L.K.
      • Lund-Andersen H.
      Skin burn, bilateral iridocyclitis and amnesia following a lightning injury.
      Cataracts have been observed to develop between 2 days and 4 years after injury.
      • Sommer L.K.
      • Lund-Andersen H.
      Skin burn, bilateral iridocyclitis and amnesia following a lightning injury.
      • Espaillat A.
      • Janigian Jr, R.
      • To K.
      Cataracts, bilateral macular holes, and rhegmatogenous retinal detachment induced by lightning.
      • Cazabon S.
      • Dabbs T.R.
      Lightning-induced cataract.
      Visual prognosis is dependent on the extent of irreversible retinal damage and optic nerve injury as well as cataract formation. Ophthalmologic evaluation as soon as medically feasible is essential for all survivors of a high-risk (Table 2) lightning strike and for any victim who develops vision loss. Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Ear

      The audiovestibular system is vulnerable to lightning, as it is a low-resistance pathway.
      • Jones D.T.
      • Ogren F.P.
      • Roh L.H.
      • Moore G.F.
      Lightning and its effects on the auditory system.
      Tympanic membrane (TM) rupture was present in more than 60% of subjects in one case series in which 12 of 18 lightning strike victims suffered ruptured tympanic membranes.
      • Glunciæ I.
      • Roje Z.
      • Glunciæ V.
      • Poljak K.
      Ear injuries caused by lightning: report of 18 cases.
      Rupture may occur through a combination of blast trauma and electrical injury. Uncomplicated TM rupture usually heals spontaneously and can be managed conservatively. Otorrhea may be a sign of underlying basilar skull fracture and secondary trauma. Sensorineural deafness is also common after lightning strike and is usually transient. However, passage of current through the temporal bone may cause microhemorrhages and microfractures to the deeper structures of the ear, resulting in permanent hearing loss.
      • Glunciæ I.
      • Roje Z.
      • Glunciæ V.
      • Poljak K.
      Ear injuries caused by lightning: report of 18 cases.
      Initial evaluation for TM integrity is necessary in all lightning strike victims; follow-up with an otolaryngologist is essential for victims with hearing loss. Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Psychiatric and Neurocognitive

      A number of poststrike psychiatric and cognitive dysfunctions are described in the literature.
      • Cherington M.
      Neurorehabilitation of the multifaceted and complicated neurologic problems associated with lightning and electrical injuries.
      • Primeau M.
      • Engelstatter G.H.
      • Bares K.K.
      Behavioral consequences of lightning and electrical injury.
      These are typically divided into functional or behavioral categories. Functional deficits include abnormalities in memory and concentration including a reduced capacity for problem solving. Behavioral problems include depression, sleep disturbances, emotional lability, and aggressive behavior. These syndromes typically develop in days to weeks after a lightning strike, usually after the individual has returned from the wilderness setting. Victims and their families can be referred to one of several lightning support networks, which may provide further counseling on the long-term sequelae of lightning injury.
      Lightning Strike and Electric Shock Survivors International, Inc: http://www.lightning-strike.org; e-mail: info@lightning-strike.org; Phone: (910) 346–4708.
      The lightning strike victim and his or her family should be counseled by primary providers to watch for symptoms of neuropsychiatric dysfunction and should seek specialized care from a mental health professional should such symptoms manifest. Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Pregnancy

      Lightning strikes in pregnancy are rare, with only 13 cases reported in the literature.
      • Pierce M.R.
      • Henderson R.A.
      • Mitchell J.M.
      Cardiopulmonary arrest secondary to lightning injury in a pregnant woman.
      • García Gutiérrez J.J.
      • Meléndez J.
      • Torrero J.V.
      • Obregón O.
      • Uceda M.
      • Gabilondo F.J.
      Lightning injuries in a pregnant woman: a case report and review of the literature.
      • Flannery D.B.
      • Wiles H.
      Follow-up of a survivor of intrauterine lightning exposure.
      • Weinstein L.
      Lightning: a rare cause of intrauterine death with maternal survival.
      • Chan Y.F.
      • Sivasamboo R.
      Lightning accidents in pregnancy.
      • Rees W.D.
      Pregnant woman struck by lightning.
      Among these victims, maternal mortality is zero whereas fetal mortality approaches 50%. The fetus is likely at higher risk than the mother because it is surrounded by highly conductive amniotic fluid.
      • Flannery D.B.
      • Wiles H.
      Follow-up of a survivor of intrauterine lightning exposure.
      In addition to primary electrical injury, lightning strikes have been reported to cause uterine rupture and induction of labor.
      • Guha-Ray D.K.
      Fetal death at term due to lightning.
      Pregnant women greater than 20 weeks' gestation who have been struck by lightning should be evacuated to a hospital for lightning-associated injury screening and fetal monitoring. In general, pregnancies less than 20 weeks are not considered viable and do not require fetal monitoring. Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Disposition and Evacuation

      Individuals with high-risk indicators (Table 2) should be evacuated immediately after the scene is determined to be safe for rescuers. Lower-risk lightning injuries and other casualties should be triaged and evacuated based on their injuries and overall medical condition. Recommendation grade: 1C.

      Conclusions

      This article provides a summary of available evidence for the prevention and treatment of lightning injury. Most available data are based on small, retrospective case reports or series because the prospective study of lightning injuries is not logistically and ethically possible. Although the strength of the overall evidence is limited, the authors believe that many recommendations can be strongly supported [1C] as there is little risk of associated harm. Improved reporting to a national or international database could help with future epidemiological studies. Consensus on injury classification systems would also simplify the reporting process and allow data to be more easily combined for future study.

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