Many folks have ceiling fans in their homes. They are great for circulating air in both summer and winter months. But did you know that millions of people believe that ceiling fans can kill you?
The belief, which is widely held in South Korea, is called “fan death”. It technically applies to any electric fan, including ceiling fans, that are in the room with a sleeping person. The belief has no basis in science, but that does not stop people from coming up with pseudo-scientific ideas about what may “cause” it.
The urban legends about fan death are as old as the technology itself. When electric fans were first introduced to Korea, stories of asphyxiation and facial paralysis in sleeping people started circulating.
Some say that hypothermia is the culprit, that the fan lowers the room temperature too much. But fans do not lower room temperature. They comply circulate the air that is there. The cooling effect you feel is due to the fan blowing away your own radiant body heat, which only lowers the body temp a couple of degrees.
This is why ceiling fans have no benefit unless a person is in the room where one is blowing. Engineers commonly tell homeowners looking for energy savings to turn off ceiling fans when no one is in the room. They are doing nothing but wasting energy.
Scientific argument does not stop people from repeating these stories. Even the media runs with them every summer in South Korea, such as this story in the Korea Herald in 2011.
A man reportedly died on Monday morning after sleeping with an electric fan running. The 59 years-old victim, only known by his surname Min, was found dead with the fan fixed directly at him.
The South Korean government even warns about fan death as a “summer hazard”. It lists “asphyxiation from electric fans and air conditioners” as among the Top Five causes of death in summer.
Some say that the belief was intentionally started by the South Korean government decades ago as a way to get people to conserve energy by turning off their electric fans at night.
sometimes I wonder how south korea got an entire nation to believe in fan death, and then I look at my mom and it all makes sense.
— Minji Cha (@minji_cha) July 2, 2014
Researchers have spoken out against the myth, insisting that someone “is not going to die from hypothermia because their body temperature drops two or three degrees overnight; it would have to drop eight to ten degrees.” They say that these deaths that have been attributed to fans were likely caused by some other undiagnosed or unfound condition, but the forensics investigators on the scene saw a fan and jumped to an erroneous conclusion.
Dr. Lee Yoon-song, a professor at Seoul National University’s medical school, says there is a reason these “fan deaths” seem to happen a lot in Korea. It is the media.
“Korean reporters are constantly writing inaccurate articles about death by fan, describing these deaths as being caused by the fan. That’s why it seems that fan deaths only happen in Korea, when in reality these types of deaths are quite rare. They should have reported the victim’s original defects, such as heart or lung disease, which are the main cause of death in these cases.”
HAHAHA my mom just warned me to turn my fan off before i sleep #fandeath
— Eugene Park (@Pobelter) May 15, 2014
Here is an actual Korean news report that attributed a death to leaving a fan on the sleeper.
Image via YouTube