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When Lightning Strikes Your iPod

The New England Journal of Medicine published a letter to the editor about a  man who was struck by lightning while wearing his iPod.  He was jogging home in a thunderstorm, listening to some energy-boosting music when -whammo- the poor Canadian man got more than he bargained for on the energy front.  A nearby tree was struck by a lightning bolt, and the side flash reached him, and followed the wiring to his ear buds.  The electrical shock passed from one ear bud to the other, blowing out his ear drums and causing such a violent contraction of all his facial muscles that his jaw snapped under the tension.

So this begs the question: could this happen to you?  Does carrying a cell phone or iPod put people at higher risk for being struck by lightning?

Well, because lightning strikes are exceedingly rare there are very few case reports in the literature about folks who have been struck while talking on their cell phone or carrying an electronic device.  And best I can tell, this is the bottom line:  carrying a cell phone or iPod does not increase your chance of being struck by lightning (there is not enough metal in those items to act as a lightning rod).  The lightning is more likely to strike a nearby tree or tall object than it will a human.  However – if you are struck (such as the man described above) any metal objects (even ions found in your sweat) that you are in contact with can influence the direction of the current.  Normally, lightning passes over the skin externally, but if you are wet or have metal in your ears, it can direct the electricity internally, where it can do more damage.

So if you’re caught in a lightning storm, I’d consider keeping metal out of direct contact with your skin.  But the chance of you being struck by lightning in your lifetime is almost one in a million, so I think there is little cause for general alarm.  Or to use a bad pun: we can all lighten up about lightning risks.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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5 Responses to “When Lightning Strikes Your iPod”

  1. Dr. Scherger says:

    I just got my iPhone which I love!  It has a good metal cover so I’d better be careful in lightening, which is fortunately rare in the paradise of San Diego.  Thanks Val for the warning.

  2. healthcarestrategist says:


    Title of this article is very misguiding. It is not the ipod which may cause damage it can be any electronic device in close contact with body or anything with earbud like speakers (earphones).

    Please change title.


    Sunil Thummala, MD

  3. ValJonesMD says:

    Dr. Thummala – can you suggest an alternative title?

  4. SOSme says:

    Your blog initiated an interesting discussion with my friend.   During our conversation, I used the saying, “Lightning strikes only once” and he said that it was not true…..

    Sure enough, a Park Ranger who is called the “human lightning rod” (a.k.a. Mr. Roy Sullivan) has been struck seven times!  Obviously, his occupation predisposes him, nonetheless, he probably should continue to listen to the “sounds of nature” rather than ever listening to tunes on an iPod!

  5. healthcarestrategist says:


    My suggestion is that the title of this article should be broad enough to cover most handled/portable/personal electronic devices carried in close contact with body/skin. Title can be “When lightening strikes handheld electronic devices” or “When lightening strikes portable electronic devices like MP3 players”  etc.

    Thanks,Sunil Thummala, MD


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