Airbag injuries

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Background

  • Airbag deployment can cause injury via multiple mechanisms, such as:
    • Caustic injuries from aerosolized alkali (including sodium hydroxide and sodium carbonate)
    • Blunt trauma from direct contact with airbag
    • Rapid deceleration and associated flexion and/or hyperextension injuries

Clinical Features

Burns

  • Usually minor
  • Related to direct contact with skin or heat from melted clothing
  • Deployment releases small amount of alkali
    • Skin burns are usually minor
    • Ocular burns require irrigation, pH testing and ophtho follow up
    • Long-term sequelae are rare

Ocular Injuries

Corneal Abrasions from Airbag Deployment
Corneal Abrasions from Airbag Deployment

Cervical and Thoracic Spine Injuries

Myocardial rupture

  • Uncommon complication
  • Can exist with barotrauma alone with the absence of rib fractures[1]

Differential Diagnosis

Caustic Burns

Workup

  • Depends on location/type of suspected injury

Management

  • Skin: basic burn care
  • Eye: copious irrigation, pH testing, ophthalmology consult
    • Consider conservative management with antibiotics, and a short course of steroids[2]

Disposition

  • Depends on type and severity of injury

See Also

References

  1. Lancaster GI, et al. Air-bag-associated rupture of the right atrium. N Engl J Med. 1993; 328:358.
  2. Brodovsky SC, et al: Management of alkali burns: An 11-year retrospective review. Ophthalmology. 2000; 107:1829-1835.