blog home Personal Injury How Air Bags Cause Eye Injuries

How Air Bags Cause Eye Injuries

By Peters & Nolan, LLC on September 21, 2021

Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of eye injuries in the U.S., as stated in a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers found an estimated 75,028 eye injuries associated with motor vehicle collisions that occurred in a seven-year period, with rates of injury highest among individuals 15 to 19 years of age. Air bags are a common cause of eye injuries in auto accidents.

How Can Air Bags Damage a Driver’s Eyes?

Air bags save lives, but they can also cause injuries when they deploy. The eyes are particularly vulnerable to air bag injuries. They can be damaged in one or both of two ways with air bag deployment in a collision:

  • Toxic chemicals: To be effective in preventing injuries, air bags must inflate rapidly. They contain certain chemicals to make this happen. When the air bag deploys, these chemicals are released into the air. They can irritate the lungs and damage the eyes.
  • Impact of deployment: When an air bag rapidly inflates, it can collide with the face, damaging the iris of the eye or the ocular bones. Severe, penetrating injuries can also occur, damaging the retina of the eye.

Researchers found that eye injuries caused by air bags in auto crashes can range from mild corneal abrasions to serious retinal detachment, in a study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. Although most eye injuries were caused by impact with a fully deployed air bag, more serious trauma to the eye resulted from an actively deploying air bag striking a vehicle occupant. Severe eye trauma can occur even in minor impact accidents.

What Factors Increase the Risk of Air Bag Eye Injuries?

Researchers in the above study found that the left eye is more vulnerable to injury than the right eye. Non-tethered air bags with greater inflation distances increase the probability of injury. Other factors that could increase the severity of air bag eye injuries include sitting too close to the steering wheel, wearing glasses, and not wearing a fastened seat belt.

What Types of Eye Injuries Do Air Bags Cause?

When air bags deploy, they can cause a range of eye injuries, from mild to severe. These injuries include:

  • Corneal abrasions: Air bags can cause scratches on the cornea (transparent part of the eye covering the iris and pupil). This can cause pain, discomfort, and sensitivity to light.
  • Bruising: Trauma from impact with an air bag can cause a black eye. Bruising can result from broken blood vessels beneath the skin. Although ice packs may be the only treatment necessary, a black eye should be examined by a doctor.
  • Orbital fracture: Impact with an air bag can fracture the bone surrounding the eye socket. More serious orbital fractures can impede eye movement and may require surgery.
  • Burns: These are among the most common eye injuries seen with air bag deployment. Burns are caused by the propellant used to inflate the air bag.
  • Detached retina: The retina is a sensory membrane. It is composed of light-sensitive layers of nerve tissue at the back of the eye that receive and send images through the optic nerve to the brain. Air bag injuries can cause the retina to tear and detach. This is a serious condition that can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated.

If you have suffered eye injuries caused by air bag deployment in a traffic crash that was someone else’s fault, you may have a claim for compensation for your losses. Call Peters & Nolan, LLC at (970) 243-4357 to speak with an experienced Grand Junction personal injury attorney. We have recovered millions of dollars for our clients.

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