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Eye Health Center

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Airbags Provide a Crash Course in Eye Trauma

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This is very rare, and the experts see no need for alarm. "The new LASIK flaps with laser refractive surgery are very strong, and I would say that the integrity is almost the same as in an eye that hasn't had surgery," Lit tells WebMD.

Thomas C. Wolf, MD, director of refractive surgery at the Dean A. McGee Eye Institute at Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City and co-author of a study on airbag-related eye damage, tells WebMD that paint balls used for recreational shooting cause more eye injuries than airbags. But he cautions that drivers and passengers should heed the advice of experts:

"The main advice I'd give is what everybody in the department of public safety always says, and that is that if you have airbags, they're only effective if you're wearing a shoulder restraint or a seat belt. So if you're in a car with airbags, keep the seat back where it's supposed to be and keep your seat belt on," Wolf tells WebMD.

Manche says that the people most at risk for injury from airbags are those of short-stature who sit close to the steering wheel: "The airbags inflate at something like 200 miles an hour, and it's an explosive event. The closer you are to the steering column, the more impact you'll receive from the inflating airbag."

Manche adds, however, that the injuries he saw in his study occurred with older, "one-size-fits-all" airbag designs. Newer-model cars have bags that deflate with less force, and some new and soon-to-be available designs include "smart" features that sense the height, weight, and relative position of the occupant, as well as the vehicle's speed, and adjust the force and speed of bag inflation accordingly.

Vital Information:

  • Although having airbags in your car is safer than not having them, when an airbag deploys, it can damage the eye in some cases.
  • To avoid potential injury, one expert recommends sitting back from the steering wheel and always wearing a seat belt.
  • Newer-model cars may have airbags that deploy with less force, making them even safer for the eyes, and "smart" airbags will soon be available in some models as well.
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