Risk of eye injuries from airbags very low

June 24, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO--Despite the common belief that airbags cause serious eye injuries, results from a Finnish study show otherwise. The study appears in the June issue of Ophthalmology, the clinical journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Eye M.D. Association.

Study authors conducted a literature review of 62 case reports and articles describing 110 cases of eye injuries in adults following airbag deployment. The authors also analyzed data from two Finnish cohorts: The Fatal Accident Series, in which data from fatal car crashes, involving a total of 65 survivors, was studied. The survivors were sitting behind airbags that deployed during the car crashes. Data from the second cohort, The Airbag Study, involved 210 individuals who were in non-fatal, serious automobile accidents. Study results showed the risk of any type of eye injury caused by airbags was very slight, only 2.5 percent. The risk for severe eye injuries was 0.4 percent. None of the individuals, however, lost their eyesight.

The study also dispelled another myth about airbag injuries being more frequent among those wearing eyeglasses, although the authors did determine the injury pattern might be affected. Based upon reanalysis of the reported data, open eye injuries were three times more likely to occur among eyeglass wearers. However, those who did not wear eyeglasses were more likely to suffer from injuries caused by the airbag chemicals.

"It shows that even the first generation of airbags provide more protection from head and chest injuries. Protecting the head from injuries also decreases the chance of eye injures, especially if seat belts are used," said one of the study's authors, Timo M.T. Tervo, MD, of the Helsinki University Eye Hospital. The study was done on data collected from the early to late 1990s.

Academy media spokesperson, Richard Bensinger, MD said, "Airbags, of course, are life savers and prevent many serious injuries. The injuries noted in this study are mostly trivial and self-limited. The injuries to car crash victims when the airbags are absent are serious and frequently cause permanent damage. Thus the use of the airbag is a health and life saver." The study was done in cooperation with the Helsinki University Eye Hospital and the Finnish Motor Insurers Center.
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The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons--Eye M.D.s--with more than 27,000 members worldwide. For more information about eye health care, visit the Academy's partner Web site, the Medem Network, at http://www.medem.com/eyemd. To find an Eye M.D. in your area, visit the Academy's Web site at http://www.aao.org.

American Academy of Ophthalmology

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