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Shocking! IPod plus lightning equals trouble, say doctors

Using a portable music player outside during a storm could be dangerous

July 12, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Doctors writing in the New England Journal of Medicine today warned that using a portable music player such as an Apple Inc. iPod outdoors when lightning threatens can be dangerous.

Physicians at Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, cited a 2005 incident where a 35-year-old man was brought into the emergency ward after being struck by lightning while jogging as he listened to his iPod. Along with second-degree burns on his chest and left leg, the man had two burns along the front of this chest and neck, then to the sides of his face.

The burns, said the doctors, "correspond[ed] to the positions of his earphones at the time of the lightning strike." Both of the man's eardrums were ruptured, they added, and his jaw was fractured.

Although the doctors didn't blame the iPod for attracting the lightning -- which actually struck a tree, then jumped to the nearby man in what's dubbed "side flash" -- they did say it contributed to his injuries. "Although the use of a device such as an iPod may not increase the chances of being struck by lightning, in this case, the combination of sweat and metal earphones directed the current to, and through, the patient's head," they claimed.

In addition to his ruptured eardrums -- common in lightning strikes -- the victim also suffered dislocation of his ossicles, tiny bones in the middle ear; ossicle dislocation is rare, the doctors said. The jaw injury was likely caused by muscle contraction as the current passed through the man's face. Two years after the accident, the man has about a 50% hearing loss in both ears, and wears hearing aids.

He wasn't the first to suffer injuries specific to an iPod. Just over a year ago, Jason Bunch, then 17, was mowing a lawn in Castle Rock, Colo., when he was struck by lightning. He, too, was listening to music with an iPod. According to the Denver Post, Bunch's injuries included hearing loss and burns that traced the headphone cord down his right side to his hip, where he had been carrying the iPod.

Bunch was listening to the band Metallica when he was hit. Ironically, the heavy metal band's second album, released in 1984, was titled Ride The Lightning.

Read more about Mobile/Wireless in Computerworld's Mobile/Wireless Topic Center.



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