Steve, I've Got a Great Idea for Our Next iPod Silhouette Campaign …
The MP3 player that can put 1,000 songs in your pocket can also send 100 million or so volts through your head if you’re unlucky enough to be struck by lightning while wearing it. A letter published in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine reports that a Vancouver jogger suffered serious injuries when he ran by a tree as it was struck by lightning:
A 37-year-old man was brought to the emergency department at our hospital. He had been jogging in a thunderstorm, listening to his iPod, when an adjacent tree was struck by lightning. Witnesses reported that he was thrown approximately 8 feet (2.4 meters) from the tree.
“The patient had second-degree burns on his chest and left leg. In addition, two linear burns extended along his anterior chest and neck to the sides of his face, terminating in substantial burns in the external auditory meatus bilaterally, corresponding to the positions of his earphones at the time of the lightning strike. Both of his tympanic membranes were ruptured, and he had a severe conductive hearing deficit. He also had a mandibular fracture.”
Yow. Apparently, the iPod’s volume-limit feature doesn’t offer much protection during a 500 megajoule power surge. “Most people hit by lightning get away with minor burns,” Vancouver General Hospital radiologist Dr. Eric Heffernan told the National Post. “It’s because skin is highly resistant and stops electricity from entering the body. It’s called the flashover effect–although it can stop your heart and kill you. … In this case, the victim had earphones on and had been sweating from jogging, so this was a case of disrupted flashover, and the earphones transmitted the electrical current into his head. It’s the first time we’ve had a recorded case of such an incident involving a person wearing headphones, and we think the public should be warned.”
In a separate interview with New Scientist, Heffernan noted that there is no MP3 player brand loyalty when it comes to lightning. “This could have happened with any player, not specifically an iPod,” he said. “There is no increased risk of being struck by lightning when using an iPod–even if you’re listening to heavy metal.”