In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

July 13, 2017

What Happens to Your Body After a Lightning Strike?

By In the Loop

A lightning strike can unleash a host of problems in your body. Just ask David Claypool, M.D., and emergency medicine physician at Mayo Clinic. Or better yet, ask Justin Gauger, who knows about those problems firsthand.

A lightning strike can unleash a host of problems in your body. Just ask David Claypool, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at Mayo Clinic. Or better yet, get the scoop from someone who knows about those problems firsthand.

If you're like us, you may occasionally play a round or two of "What if?" What if you won the lottery? What if zombies are real? What if we did some actual work around here once in a while? Most of the time, we rely on our imagination for those answers. But sometimes, the internets provide us with a more definitive truth. Which is how we found out what happens when someone is struck by lightning. (Spoiler alert: It's not good.)

"Lots of things happen to the body" when it's struck by lightning, David Claypool, M.D., tells Dr. Claypool, an emergency medicine physician at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, says the effect "depends on how much force you take" and whether you're hit "directly or indirectly."

Potential problems include being temporarily blinded by the light(ning) or rupturing an eardrum due to a clap of thunder. Cardiac and respiratory arrest also are both common, as are burns — including "Lichtenberg lines," which Dr. Claypool describes as "fernlike, superficial burns" that may appear temporarily in some people. A lightning strike can also lead to "long-lasting effects on the brain," such as memory loss and seizures, he says.

One person who could tell you firsthand about some of that is Justin Gauger, who shared his shocking experience with The Atlantic earlier this year. Justin, who tells the magazine he ended up at Mayo Clinic seeking help for the frustrating aftereffects of being struck, says his "whole body was just stopped" when he was hit by lightning near Flagstaff, Arizona, during a fishing trip. "I can't explain the pain except to say if you've ever put your finger in a light socket as a kid, multiply that feeling by a gazillion throughout your entire body," Justin says.

People who witnessed the strike and rushed to his aid later told Justin his body had been "smoking." Photos that accompany the article bear that out: the boots and socks he was wearing are singed. The magazine reports that now during a storm Justin is (understandably) "most comfortable sitting in his bathroom closet, monitoring its progress with an app on his phone."

He's not alone. Thunderphobia — worries about strong weather — is no joke. Even people who have never been hit by lightning can have it. (As many dog owners can attest, it's a common canine condition, too.) To keep yourself safe, remember this advice from the National Weather Service: "When thunder roars, go indoors." (You don't have to tell us twice.)

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Tags: Dr. David Claypool, Health and Wellness

I would like to get more info on treatments for lightening strikes , and would like to know if there is any studies being done on people that have been struck more than once, I have been struck 3 times in the last 10 years


I was indirectly struck by lightning on 2/25/21. I was on my balcony when our mid rise got struck. I have been in a lot of pain and have been able to manage most of it besides from my neck up. I also not able to speak as well, write and when over stimulated then unable to move/speak/think properly. I feel as my brea on is not able to filter out what it could before and having to process it all. I am also having some intense episodes with my face neck which also has a lot of pain associated with it. I have a video I was able to capture yesterday.

Is there any help for indirect strike survivors?

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