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full-thickness burn, partial-thickness burn, dysaesthesia, hyperpigmentation, early treatment, chemical burn, mechanical burn, thermal burn, airbag deployment, airbag burn







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BACKGROUND: Dual airbags are required to be installed and available for use in all motor vehicles since 1997. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that 50,457 lives were saved by airbags from 1987 to 2017; however, airbag deployment can cause injuries, including thermal and chemical burns, hyperpigmentation, and dysaesthesia. There is little information available in the literature regarding differences in outcomes between promptly visiting a plastic surgeon and waiting for treatment, especially as an injury may not be immediately apparent or patients may not know that airbag burn injuries may be delayed in presenting.

METHODS: This is a retrospective cohort pilot study conducted among 14 patients who presented to a plastic surgeon between January 1, 2019 and June 30, 2022 owing to injuries from airbag deployment. An early visit was considered ≤30 days, and a late visit was >30 days. Other variables collected included age, sex, Fitzpatrick skin type, smoking status, comorbidities, type of injury, injury site, pain status, hyper/hypopigmentation, dysaesthesia, epithelialization, and improvements in pain, pigmentation, and dysaesthesia from treatment.

RESULTS: The mean age was 36.0 years (standard deviation (SD) 17.9). The majority were female (85.7%), non-smokers (87.5%), and not diabetic (75.0%). Only six patients (42.9%) visited their doctor within one month of injury. Most patients experienced dysaesthesia (85.7%) and pain (71.4%). Thirteen of the 14 patients had hyperpigmentation or hyperemia, and one had hypopigmentation. Full or slight epithelialization was seen in 35.7%, and nine of the 14 patients had no epithelialization. Ongoing issues were a factor for 64.3% of these patients; 42.9% had ongoing issues with hyperpigmentation. A full recovery was seen in 28.6% of the patients. The patients who saw the plastic surgeon by day 30 or less (early) from the time of injury had a 66.7% improvement in pigmentation and 33.3% resolution in pain. Of those who went to the surgeon beyond 30 days (late), 25% had improvement in pigmentation and 37.5% had resolution of pain. Improvement in dysaesthesia occurred in both groups, but those who saw the plastic surgeon early had 33.3% resolution, while 37.5% of those who went late improved. Of those who went late to the surgeon, only 12.5% had epithelialization, while 66.7% of those who went within 30 days showed signs of (full or slight) epithelialization.

CONCLUSION: Patients involved in motor vehicle collisions (MVCs) should be informed of the delayed fashion in which airbag burns can develop. An ostensibly mild burn may portend long-term consequences, especially if such injuries are not addressed in a prompt manner. Our study demonstrates how airbag burn injuries and their sequelae are best addressed with early care.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



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