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Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2014 May;271(5):855-61. doi: 10.1007/s00405-013-2544-7. Epub 2013 May 7.

Inner ear damage following electric current and lightning injury: a literature review.

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Department of Otolaryngology, St George's Healthcare NHS Trust, Blackshaw Road, London, SE17 0QT, UK,


Audiovestibular sequelae of electrical injury, due to lightning or electric current, are probably much more common than indicated in literature. The aim of the study was to review the impact of electrical injury on the cochleovestibular system. Studies were identified through Medline, Embase, CINAHL and eMedicine databases. Medical Subject Headings used were 'electrical injury', 'lightning', 'deafness' and 'vertigo'. All prospective and retrospective studies, case series and case reports of patients with cochlear or vestibular damage due to lightning or electrical current injury were included. Studies limited to external and middle ear injuries were excluded. Thirty-five articles met the inclusion criteria. Fifteen reported audiovestibular damage following electric current injury (domestic or industrial); a further 15 reported lightning injuries and five concerned pathophysiology and management. There were no histological studies of electrical current injury to the human audiovestibular system. The commonest acoustic insult after lightning injury is conductive hearing loss secondary to tympanic membrane rupture and the most frequent vestibular symptom is transient vertigo. Electrical current injuries predominantly cause pure sensorineural hearing loss and may significantly increase a patient's lifetime risk of vertigo. Theories for cochleovestibular damage in electrical injury include disruption of inner ear anatomy, electrical conductance, hypoxia, vascular effects and stress response hypothesis. The pathophysiology of cochleovestibular damage following electrical injury is unresolved. The mechanism of injury following lightning strike is likely to be quite different from that following domestic or industrial electrical injury. The formulation of an audiovestibular management protocol for patients who have suffered electrical injuries and systematic reporting of all such events is recommended.

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