Baystate Health print this page

Protect Yourself from Dangerous Lightning

July 01, 2011

Summer is in full swing and already we have seen violent thunderstorms accompanied by a rare occurrence in western Massachusetts – a tornado.

Along with the hot summer weather comes the chance that violent thunderstorms will produce dangerous lightning, which has already sent an area patient to the emergency room.

“Lightning can cause a victim’s heart to stop and seriously affect the internal organs,” said Dr. John Santoro, vice chair, Emergency Medicine, Baystate Medical Center.

Those who don’t die and survive a lightning strike often report a variety of symptoms, some long-term, including memory loss, dizziness, sleep disorders, numbness, irritability, fatigue, depression, muscle spasms, weakness, and stiffness in various joints.

Dr. Santoro offers the following safety guidelines whether caught outside during a thunderstorm or in the safety of your home:

  • Don’t go near water or lay down on wet ground. If possible, crouch down in a dry ditch.
  • Stay away from tall or metal objects such as flagpoles, fences, and trees.
  • If you are indoors, stay away from electrical appliances and avoid using the telephone.
  • Don’t watch storms from an open window or door. Also, avoid the fireplace because the chimney is a target.

Dr. Santoro, whose job as a physician educator also involves prevention, said feeling your hair stand on end is a warning that lightning is about to strike near you and for safety sake you should crouch down immediately.

“The safest place to be is in a steel-framed building or a building protected by lightning rods,” said Dr. Santoro, who is also an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine for Tufts University School of Medicine. Baystate Medical Center, the Western campus of Tufts University School of Medicine, offers a residency in Emergency Medicine.