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Airbags Can Cause Serious Cardiac Injuries

January 25, 2014 | 3 min read

Car airbags may be dangerous and cause “hidden injuries,” according to a new report. Doctors said while airbags can prevent certain injuries and death in the event of a car accident, they can also cause cardiac and pulmonary injuries, some of which may be fatal. These risks increase if the person in the car does not wear a seatbelt, the report said. Sitting closer than 10 inches from where the airbag deploys also increases the risk of suffering a cardiac injury during an airbag deployment.

“Cardiac injuries can happen due to airbag deployment even with no visible injury at the time of presentation to the hospital, and this may include serious cardiac injuries,” said lead author Dr. Rami Khouzam from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, according to MedScape.

Khouzam said the possible injuries following an airbag deployment include aortic transection, tricuspid-valve injury, cardiac contusion, aortic-valve avulsion, atrial rupture, cardiac tamponade and hemopericardium, MedScape reported.

Khouzam and fellow researchers analyzed 57 reviews, case reports and prospective studies on airbags since the safety feature was introduced to cars in 1970, the source said. While airbag technology has improved in the last several decades, they still cause injuries, according to the report.

“Despite the fact that airbags are considered to be lifesaving and their use has significantly reduced the fatality rate associated with high-speed collisions, airbag deployment alone has recently been implicated as a cause of clinically significant thoracic injury to unrestrained drivers,” Khouzam and colleagues wrote.

Unidentifiable injury
One of the dangers with these injuries is that they may not be visible on the crash victim.

“Because it can occur in the absence of chest pain or visible wounds, cardiac trauma can easily be missed in the presence of other injuries,” the authors wrote in the report. “A high index of suspicion must be entertained in decelerating-type accidents to diagnose occult injury to the aorta and great vessels.”

The right ventricle receives the full impact of the airbag when it deploys and hits a person’s chest, according to the report. This can easily rupture the right atrium, as the doctors explained it is one of the thinnest vascular structures in the thorax. The report said doctors should consider acute coronary occlusion when diagnosing chest pain after blunt force trauma due to an airbag deploying. This injury can occur even in young patients, the researchers said.

An airbag could also cause rib and sternum fractures, according to the report. Other injuries include burns due to the release of alkaline chemicals when an airbag deploys.

Most at risk
Low-speed collisions pose a high risk for airbag injuries, according to the report.

“The situations in which airbags are most dangerous are low-speed collisions, when the occupants are positioned closer to the airbag at the time of deployment, particularly shorter adults and those who ride unbelted,” according to the researchers.

Counterfeit airbag laws
Several states have created laws that make manufacturing, importing, installing and selling counterfeit airbags illegal. The crime is a felony in Connecticut, New York and most recently Ohio, according to Autoblog.

U.S. Customs stopped shipments of more than 300 counterfeit airbags in 2009. The airbags were intended for delivery in Tennessee, Autoblog reported. They were made by a company in China, and a Chinese native was held liable and sentenced to 37 months in federal prison.

A total of 13 shipments of counterfeit airbags was stopped in 2011, and in 2012, Customs seized 65 shipments, the source said. The rise in counterfeit airbags in 2012 encouraged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue a consumer advisory on the dangers of the products. Some of these airbags were not deploying at all, or sending shrapnel into the cars when they did deploy.