Objective: To investigate eye injuries resulting from frontal automobile crashes and to determine the effects of frontal air bags.
Methods: The National Automotive Sampling System database files from January 1, 1993, through December 31, 1999, were examined in a 3-part study that included an investigation of 22 236 individual crashes that occurred in the United States. A new 4-level eye injury severity scale that quantifies injuries based on recovery time, need for surgery, and possible loss of sight was developed.
Results: Of all occupants who were exposed to an air bag deployment, 3% sustained an eye injury. In contrast, 2% of occupants not exposed to an air bag deployment sustained an eye injury. A closer examination of the type of eye injuries showed that there was a statistically significant increase in the risk of corneal abrasions for occupants who were exposed to an air bag compared with those who were not (P = .03). Of occupants exposed to an air bag deployment, 0.5% sustained a corneal abrasion compared with 0.04% of occupants who were not exposed to an air bag.
Conclusions: Using the new injury levels, it was shown that although occupants exposed to an air bag deployment had a higher risk of sustaining minor eye injuries, the air bag appears to have provided a beneficial exchange by reducing the number of severe eye injuries.