Listening to music, the radio or talking to near and dear ones on our mobiles before we go to sleep is a common habit for most users. But nobody normally imagines even in their wildest dreams that the handy earphone that one plugs into their smartphone can invite death.
Reports say this unfortunate fate befell a 46-year-old woman identified as Fathima from Kanathur, Chennai. She was fatally electrocuted after falling asleep with her earphones plugged in.
A report in the Times of India quoted a police officer as saying that Fathima's husband Abdul Kalam tried waking her up, but was unsuccessful. When Fathima failed to respond despite repeated attempts, Kalam was alarmed and took her to a hospital.
Fathima was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.
A preliminary report by doctors confirmed the reason of death as electrocution. A short circuit is believed to be the reason. Further investigations are on to confirm the theory.
The case is an unusual one, and again questions the age-old habit of sleeping with the earphones on. A mobile handset is a regular for everyone and there have been instances where users have tethered their earphones to a laptop or a computer and have dozed off.
The possibility of death by earbuds is never usually considered, since the plastic, silicone or even rubber buds are unlikely to transmit any charge. Moreover a 5V current is the maximum that can pass through the earphone wires, which at maximum can give one a slight irritating static rather than an electrocution.
On its support page, Apple says that it is common for devices to transmit small electro-static shocks. "When you use earbuds in areas where the air is very dry, they can build up static electricity. Your ears might receive a small electrostatic discharge from the earbuds. If you receive a static shock from your earbuds, this doesn't mean that there's an issue with your device or the earbuds," says the page.
But Fathima's case, it must be underlined, is not an isolated instance. There have been a few other mysterious fatalities across the world in similar circumstances.
For instance, 19-year-old Gabrielle Samuels' from Houston, Texas (USA) was electrocuted to death. Medical officers found that Samuels' malfunctioning iPhone charger was the cause of death. She was using an unofficial iPhone charger.
A similarly bizzare case was reported in the UK. The Mirror reported Luiza Pinheiro a 17-year-old student died with the earphone melting in her ears. The case was reported in early 2018 and investigators said Pinheiro had plugged her iPhone to charge while listening to music. A lightning storm was reported during that time. Officials are still investigating the bizzare case.
A question posted on unusual deaths on Quora.com highlighted the death of Michael Anderson Godwin, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1983. Godwin died in 1989 while adjusting his earphones, which were plugged into his prison cell’s TV. He bit into a piece of the wire while sitting on a steel-rimmed toilet.
Sify.com tried to ascertain the truth by reaching out to medical experts and the Chennai police officials, but so far there has been nothing concrete.
Autopsy on Fathima's body was conducted at Chennai's Royapettah Government Hospital.