Fan Death: South Korean Urban Legend or Scary, Scary Way You Could Possibly Die in Your Sleep?

Beware of South Korean Fan Death!Maybe it’s because neither Yoshi nor I are of Korean descent and therefore immune to this awful, awful way of suffocating, being poisoned, or dying of hypothermia during our sleep, but right now I am counting my blessings.

I confess… I didn’t realize that we had been engaging in something so life threatening… sleeping with a fan on in an enclosed room. That’s right… all these years, we’ve been at risk of South Korean Fan Death!

Did you know that an electric fan can create a vortex, which sucks the oxygen from an enclosed and sealed room and create a partial vacuum inside? An electric fan chops up all the oxygen particles in the air leaving none to breathe. You might say, “Oh no, Joz. That violates conservation of matter, since indoor fans are not powerful enough to change the air pressure by any significant amount.” But CONSERVATION OF MATTER BE DAMNED! This is scary shit, yo! And the Koreans have brilliantly found a way to prevent Fan Death… a timing mechanism to turn fans off automatically before this happens.

Now, before we go any further, I remember sleeping in my enclosed room as a kid with a Taiwanese fan with a timer. My parents always told me to use the timer function so the fan would shut off at night. I always thought it was because they wanted to conserve energy and because they didn’t want to have to get up in the middle of the night to turn the fan off in my room, but maybe the Taiwanese were less informed about the dangers of Fan Death. Or maybe my parents didn’t want to scare me.

Regardless, I always loved the timer of my because I remember I would indeed get cold if I left it on all night. So maybe the Koreans know something I didn’t know then about how fans contribute to hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature). They say that a fan is left on all night in a sealed and enclosed room, it will lower the temperature of the room to the point that it can cause hypothermia. Maybe that’s because South Korean government cares more about its people than does ours; I’ve never heard of any U.S. government-issued warnings about this!

The Korea Consumer Protection Board (KCPB), a South Korean government-funded public agency, issued a consumer safety alert in 2006 warning that “asphyxiation from electric fans and air conditioners” was among South Korea’s five most common seasonal summer accidents or injuries, according to data they collected. According to the KCPB:

“If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes bodies to lose water and [causes] hypothermia. If directly in contact with [air current from] a fan, this could lead to death from [the] increase of carbon dioxide saturation concentration and decrease of oxygen concentration. The risks are higher for the elderly and patients with respiratory problems. From 2003 [to] 2005, a total of 20 cases were reported through the CISS involving asphyxiations caused by leaving electric fans and air conditioners on while sleeping. To prevent asphyxiation, timers should be set, wind direction should be rotated and doors should be left open.”

SEE?!?!?! They warn their consumers that using a fan in a sealed room could also contribute to prolonged asphyxiation due to environmental oxygen displacement or carbon dioxide intoxication!

Damn those electric fans are tricky! So many different ways it could kill us in our sleep!

“Oh, but Joz…” you say. “This is ridiculous. I’ve never heard of anything like this every being reported.”

Well, maybe that’s because your sources of information might be too limited and excludes South Korean mainstream news. Fan death is accepted by many Korean medical professionals and in summer, mainstream Korean news sources regularly report on cases of fan death.

For instance, the July 28, 1997 edition of the Korea Herald, an English-language newspaper reported:

The heat wave which has encompassed Korea for about a week, has generated various heat-related accidents and deaths. At least 10 people died from the effects of electric fans which can remove oxygen from the air and lower body temperatures…

On Friday in eastern Seoul, a 16-year-old girl died from suffocation after she fell asleep in her room with an electric fan in motion. The death toll from fan-related incidents reached 10 during the past week. Medical experts say that this type of death occurs when one is exposed to electric fan breezes for long hours in a sealed area. “Excessive exposure to such a condition lowers one’s temperature and hampers blood circulation. And it eventually leads to the paralysis of heart and lungs,” says a medical expert.

“To prevent such an accident, one should keep the windows open and not expose oneself directly to fan air,” he advised.

Now, to be fair, this phenomenon is virtually unheard of outside of Korea. Locals claim Koreans are uniquely vulnerable due to a peculiarity either of their own physiology or of Korean fans. Maybe that’s why only Korean fans come with this warning:

Korean Fan Death Warning!

Lucky for us, we have cheated death in a several of ways… not only are we not Korean and none of our fans are made in Korea (yay for Made in China, for once!), we also now have a window fan which blows outside air in!

Now I can say that blogging has officially (potentially) saved our lives since my friend Chris posted about this, warning me about the dangers of Fan Death. In his words, “God only knows how many times I have very narrowly escaped those hungry jaws of death that circulate air through my hot bedroom on summer nights. Just think, if I had closed my window before going to sleep, I wouldn’t be here posting this today! I count myself blessed. Shudder to think of the horrible deaths others have endured when their friendly household fan ‘chops up all the oxygen particles in the air leaving none to breathe’–how horrible!”

Yes, indeed, Chris. I feel what you’re feeling right now.

So in the spirit of paying it forward, I’d like to take this moment to remind you, BEWARE OF THE DEATH FAN!

And now you know. And knowing is half the battle.*

*Hmm, inappropriate to reference GI Joe? Oh well.

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About jozjozjoz

jozjozjoz is a taiwanese-american gal who lives and blogs underneath the hollywood sign and who doesn’t clean her fishtank unless the fish starts to do the backstroke. she is also able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but cannot stop from bumping into door handles, cabinet doors, and anything else that protrudes or has a sharp edge. she does not run with scissors for this same reason. she can pet the fur off a dog but don’t ask her to go anywhere near a horse. or a moth. or a roach. her dealings with L.A.’s finest (aka the parking violations department) are legend, as are her giant sneezes. Other than the two too many joz’s, jozjozjoz is a perfectly normal, relatively sane individual who defies the odds, reaches for the stars, and carries moonbeams home in a jar. She’d rather be a fish… but not in her own dirty fishtank.
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