Most of us have a hidden danger lurking in our bedrooms. We go to sleep every night, completely oblivious to the fact that we are putting our lives at risk, simply for a little comfort. That’s right, we’ve become so sensitive to the slightest deviation in temperature from our preferred range that we willingly stare death in the face and go to sleep in a closed room while an electric fan is running, often just a meter or two from our face.
No one knows exactly how these silent killers do their deadly work, but scientists have come up with three main theories. When we sleep, our metabolism slows down, making us more susceptible to changes in temperature. The first theory states that, due to our increased sensitivity to changes in temperature, a fan left running in a closed room can lower the temperature to a point where hypothermia occurs.
The second theory claims that victims of fan death die of asphyxiation, but again, the reason for suffocation are disputed. Perhaps the fan chops up the oxygen molecules in the air, rendering them useless to our lungs or perhaps the fan creates a vacuum near our faces, depriving us of oxygen. Or it could simply be a case of us using up all the oxygen in a closed room and suffocating on our own carbon-dioxide.
The final theory directly opposes the first. Rather than dying of hypothermia, victims of fan death actually die of hyperthermia, i.e. they are cooked alive. The fan blows hot air over our sleeping bodies, functioning like a convection oven and basically cooking us in our sleep.
No matter which theory you believe, one thing is certain: the danger is real. In 2006, the Korea Consumer Protection Board issued a safety alert that fan death was among South Korea’s five most common seasonal summer accidents or injuries. Between 2003 and 2005, 20 people fell victim to these killer appliances.
Of course there are skeptics, but they simply refuse to see the evidence. Medical examiners in South Korea often list fan death as the cause when a body is found dead in bed with no apparent cause of death, but with a running fan in the room. Additionally, several such stories are reported by the media every year. Even if you don’t believe doctors and journalists, the fact that Korean fan manufacturers equip all fans with a timer and a warning label makes it clear that the danger is very real.
“How can I avoid this horrible fate?” you’re wondering. Simple. Don’t leave a fan running while you sleep. Or if you absolutely insist on sleeping in comfort, make sure to open a window to lessen the risk of death. Alternatively, don’t go to South Korea—while several Koreans die from fan death every year, not one single person has ever succumbed to such a death anywhere else on earth.