Why lightning can be a killer

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 August, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 August, 1994, 12:00am

Q: I am an avid golfer and play every other weekend. I play even when it is raining. I have heard of numerous golfers who have been struck by lightning on the golf course. Can you please tell me what causes this to happen and how best to avoid it? Dr Rose writes: Every year, there are many direct lightning strikes on people worldwide, with fatality rates about 30 per cent. Golfers are at high risk because they tend to seek shelter under trees. The most dangerous part of a storm is just before it starts when most lightning occurs. In fact, people have been known to be struck with blue skies overhead.

As lightning strikes the ground, it looks for a receptor which can be any object rising above the surrounding terrain that can conduct electricity. A tree on a golf course serves as an excellent receptor.

When one is struck by lightning, the immediate effects include an electric jolt to the muscles. This can be followed by aches and pain, dislocated joints, broken and bruised bones in addition to paralysis of speech and limbs, numbness, photophobia, disorientation, lapses in and out of consciousness, loss of equilibrium and memory, and in more severe cases, cardiac arrthymias due to the disturbance of the intrinsic electricity activity of the heart.

Ventricular fibrillation leading to cardiac arrest is the most common cause of death.

Long term, victims of a lightning strike sometimes suffer from insomnia, frequent urination, chronic body pains, inability to taste food or feel temperature changes and neurological problems ranging from headaches and dizziness to slowing of heart rates and fainting spells.

To be safe, before and during an electrical storm, avoid standing near trees. Head for the clubhouse to seek shelter until the storm subsides. Q: I am a healthy man in my 50s but have noticed the formation of hard nodules in my palms at the base of my fingers. On my right hand, which is the more severe one, I have even noticed my ring finger is curling up a little bit. I have seen this in older men. What is this disease and what causes it? Would physiotherapy help? Dr Rose writes: What you are describing sounds like Dupuytren's contracture. It is a disorder of the hand in which the ring and little finger are affected. The exact causes are unclear, but it tends to run in families. Men over 40 are most commonly affected. People whose work involves gripping vibrating tools seem to be especially at risk. In about half the cases, both hands are involved.

The soft tissues under the skin in the palm of the hand gradually thicken creating the sensation of a hard nodule. This then forms a band-like tendon across the palm, leading to puckering of the skin and eventually contraction of the fingers.

Physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory medications have not been very successful in treating this disorder. The only satisfactory treatment appears to be surgery, where the thickened bands are cut and separated and the fingers are released to their natural range of motion.

Q: I have Multiple Sclerosis and am in remission. I have heard that there is a dietary regimen for sufferers of MS. Is this true? Can you please tell me what is involved? I have asked my doctor but he is not aware of such a regimen. Dr Rose writes: Treatment of MS involves lifestyle modification including avoidance of excessive fatigue, emotional stress and marked climatic temperature variations.

Dietary recommendations have not proven to be highly effective for all sufferers, however, they pose little threat.

A neurologist at the University of Oregon has provided evidence that a diet low in saturated fats, maintained long-term, may retard the disease and reduce recurrences.

The regimen includes a reduction of saturated fat intake to less than 10 grammes per day; increasing polyunsaturated oil intake to at least 40 to 50 grammes per day; one teaspoon of cod liver oil daily; and eating fish at least three times per week.

The oils contained in many cold-water fish, such as mackerel, salmon and herring, may be important in maintaining normal nerve cell function and myelin production.