A jogger wearing one of the popular iPod music players suffered second-degree ear and neck burns, burst eardrums, and jaw fractures after lightning struck a nearby tree.
Doctors say that the wires leading to the iPod’s earbuds channeled electricity up the man’s torso and into his ears. Linear burns extended from the ears to the cheeks and down the neck, tracing the wires.
Emergency physicians at Vancouver (British Columbia) General Hospital describe the case in the July 12 New England Journal of Medicine.
The doctors say that the skin’s naturally high electrical resistance usually dissipates lightning across the body’s surface, an effect known as flashover. But “sweat and metallic objects in contact with the skin can disrupt flashover,” and in this case directed the jolt into the man’s head.
The facial fractures were probably caused by electrically triggered contractions of the strong jaw muscles, while explosive expansion of the air around the earbuds probably caused the ear damage.
Last year, a Colorado teen sustained similar injuries while wearing an iPod.
The Vancouver doctors say that iPods and similar devices, including cell phones, probably don’t increase the likelihood of being struck by lightning. They just make the experience much more electrifying.