Airbag-Induced Noise Trauma in Car Accidents

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, using an airbag reduces the risk of death in frontal crashes by around 30%. Using a seatbelt in addition to your airbag lowers the risk further. Together, airbags and shoulder belts have a 50% chance of saving your life.

But what are the risks of using airbags? There are documented cases of airbags causing death, but this is becoming an extremely rare occurrence. However, airbags can cause neck and head injuries, burns and eye injuries. Airbag-induced noise trauma is another danger you should look out for, although it is not very widespread.

How Does Airbag-Induced Noise Trauma Happen?

Airbag deployment is quick but very loud. In less than 1/10 of a second, a deploying airbag creates a pressure wave of 150 to 170 decibels. Keep in mind that standing right in front of the speakers at a rock concert exposes you to 140 decibels at most.

What happens next?

This pressure wave, along with the impact itself, can cause damage to your middle ear. Eardrum perforations happen to one in five people who have suffered airbag-induced noise trauma. This usually happens only in one ear.

But this isn’t the only type of possible damage. Sensorineural hearing loss is a possible consequence as well. This means that the pressure wave can make the nerves or hair cells in your inner ear much less sensitive, in one or both ears.

What about Treatment?

After a car crash with airbag deployment, your medical professionals have to check your hearing. They will ask whether you are experiencing tinnitus or dizziness. Hearing tests may be a good choice too.

In case of eardrum perforation, surgery might be necessary. But in many cases, eardrum damage can heal over time.

Unfortunately, sensorineural damage can be more permanent. Your doctors may prescribe methylprednisolone or look for other treatment options.

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