June 24, 2003 - An airbag may very likely save your life during an automobile accident, and contrary to popular belief, it won't do so at the price of your eyesight. A new study shows the risk of eye injury due to a rapidly deployed airbag is extremely low and wearing glasses won't necessarily increase that risk.
The study appears in the June issue of Ophthalmology.
Researchers analyzed 62 case reports and articles describing 110 cases of eye injury after airbag deployment. They compared it to data collected by two Finnish studies with 331 individuals involved in serious car accidents in which the survivors were seated behind airbags that deployed during the crash.
The study found that the risk of any type of eye injury caused by airbags was very slight at only 2.5%, and most of those injuries were very mild, such as an eyebrow cut or bruise. The risk of severe eye injury was even smaller, 0.4%, and none of those individuals lost their sight as a result of their injury.
"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 injuries, especially if seat belts are used," says researcher Timo M.T. Tervo, MD, of the Helsinki University Eye Hospital, in a news release.
When seat belts were used the risk of eye injury dropped to 2%, and researchers say more advanced airbags are now being installed on many new cars that may further reduce the risk of airbag eye injury.
The study also found that people who wore eyeglasses were no more likely to suffer airbag eye injuries than others. However, researchers say eyeglasses might affect the type of injury sustained in a car crash.
People who did not wear eyeglasses were more likely to suffer injuries caused by chemicals released during the airbag deployment, and eyeglass wearers were three times more likely to suffer an open eye injury, such as damage to the cornea. But researchers say it's not clear whether these open eye injuries were related to the deployment of the airbag.
"Airbags, of course, are lifesavers 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, " says Richard Bensinger, MD, spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, in a news release. "Thus the use of the airbag is a health and life saver."