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Your Healthy Family: Lightning injuries and safety tips

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Posted at 12:16 PM, Jul 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-20 13:17:29-04

Summer is in full effect across Colorado, which means beautiful sunny days with afternoons that can often bring thunderstorms and lightning that move in quickly.

Dr. Paul Reckard, a trauma surgeon with UCHealth Memorial Hospital says the injuries caused to the human body by a lightning strike can be wide-ranging.

"That high energy creates a heat wave through the whole body that can disrupt not only the muscles and the soft tissue but also the electrical activity in the brain and the cardiac system. Seizures and cardiac arrest are two very common results of lightning strike."

Externally Dr. Reckard says the injuries in some cases can be more subtle. "With a lightning strike you generally don't see the kind of external entrance and exit wounds that we see with high voltage tension lines. The strike is so quick -- it's literally milliseconds so sometimes we will see nothing more than a faint red rash externally on a person’s body."

Dr. Reckard says If you're with someone who is struck by lightning, the first thing to do is call 9-1-1 and get help on the way. Once you have done that, Dr. Reckard says the next steps to follow are, “Check and see if they are breathing. If they are not breathing, start mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.” Next says Dr. Reckard, “Check for a pulse in the carotid artery, if there is not a pulse and their heart has stopped you need to start basic life support and try and get somebody there as quickly as you can to get them medical care because there really isn’t much you can do in the field.”

Finally, indoors is the best place to be during a thunderstorm but with our Colorado lifestyle many times outdoors is where you may find yourself during a thunderstorm and shelter isn’t always easy to find.

Dr. Reckard says, "If you’re trapped in the open with a group, or by yourself and you can't get to shelter find a dry low spot. If you’re carrying a backpack or hiking poles get them away from you, at least 100 feet because that stuff will attract lightning. If you’re hiking in a group in the mountains, spread out so if someone gets hit, then there is somebody else who can call 911 and do CPR.”

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