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iPods and Thunderstorms: Danger Alert

So youre jogging your usual route, listening to your iPod to block out the world and suddenly, out of nowhere, a bolt of lightening hits a nearby tree. You think that could be a problem?

Well, according to a report published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine [1], a jogger in Vancouver, British Columbia, was suddenly caught in a thunderstorm and, as he ran by a tree, the tree was hit by a bolt of lightening. Witnesses said the 37-year-old man was thrown eight feet. Even worse, he suffered burns, his jaw was broken in several places and both his eardrums were ruptured, as in blown out.

The authors of the report, two doctors from Vancouver General Hospital, didnt conclude that the iPod caused that electric jolt, but given that the charge followed the iPod wiring to the ear buds, the report suggests that wearing an iPod in a thunderstorm apparently makes a dangerous situation even more so.

The NEJM article also stated that sweat and metallic objects in contact with the skin provide the means for a strong electric current (a thunderbolt, for example) to enter the body and you know thats not good. In this case, the combination of sweat and metal earphones directed the current to, and through, the patients head, the report concluded. The jogger experienced a 50% hearing loss in both ears.

In another case, this one in Colorado, 17-year-old Jason Bunch was mowing the lawn listening to some tunes on his iPod. He never knew what hit him but a bolt of lightening sent Jason to the hospital suffering burns on his face and bleeding from the ears. Again, analysts are unwilling to conclude that the iPod acted as an antenna that attracted the lightening, but it was clear from the burn pattern that the electrical charge followed the iPods wiring. It melted the iPods ear buds and blew hole in the back of the iPod unit.

Jason lost 50% of his hearing in one ear as a result of the unseen lightening bolt. And hes 17-years old.

So what can we learn from these experiences?

  • Dont jog or mow the lawn when it looks like a thunderstorm is brewing.
  • If caught in a thunderstorm, remove the iPod from your ears.
  • Remove metal objects (including jewelry) when jogging or involved in any strenuous outdoor activity.
  • Consider leaving the iPod at home and enjoying the sounds of the world around you.

iPods have already been determined to cause premature hearing loss. They also increase your chances of getting mugged in the big city. Muggers look for iPod wires. And now, theres some evidence to suggest that iPods and thunderstorms can do serious harm especially to the internal mechanism of hearing.

[1] Heffernan E., Munk, P., Louis, L. (2007). Thunderstorms and iPods - Not a Good Idea. N Engl J Med, 357(2), 198-199. content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/357/2/198

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