By Renee Karlik, Regulatory Compliance Specialist
Airbags have saved many lives and are clearly beneficial during a collision. First responders must make rapid assessment and provide treatment on site of automobile accidents. The most obvious injuries will immediately get attention and less obvious injuries may go unnoticed. Alkaline injury of the eye is often overlooked.
The Chemistry of Airbags
Airbags in motor vehicles are inflated by the production of nitrogen gas from the oxidation of a sodium azide propellant system. Byproducts of this combustion process create a hot alkaline aerosol containing sodium hydroxide, sodium carbonate, carbon dioxide and metallic oxides. Small amounts of sodium hydroxide powder can escape through the nylon meshwork of the airbag, creating the potential for direct exposure of the eye to sodium hydroxide.
Improving Outcomes of Ocular Injury
The most important intervention is copious irrigation using normal saline or any neutral irrigation fluid until pH of the eye has normalized. The promptness and thoroughness of eye irrigation will substantially improve the outcome of ocular alkaline injury. Awareness of the importance of ocular irrigation following airbag deployment must be raised for first responders and emergency medicine communities.
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