Air Bags and the Skin

Monica Corazza, MD; Silvana Trincone, MD; Maria Rosaria Zampino, MD; Annarosa Virgili, MD

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Thermal Burns

High-temperature gases and the explosion of chemical products that come in contact with electrical wiring are directly responsible for thermal burns.[17] Melted fabrics or overheated metallic accessories can also injure the skin, producing extremely localized burns with figurate areas.

Thermal burns are frequently observed on the hands, arms, and chest. These burns are usually superficial or partial thickness.[8] In one patient, we observed typical thermal burns involving the arms with superficial burns on one side and partial thickness burns on the other.[18] Superficial burns are usually pink to pale red in color and feature painful blisters. Sometimes the rupture of the blisters produces an exudative, moist surface. Full-thickness burns are usually whitish, without blisters, and symptomless. Thermal lesions on the hands, caused by the hot gases ejected under pressure from the lateral ports of the air bag during the deflating phase, have been described as cigarette-like burns with blisters.[10]

A combination of both chemical and thermal injury may occur, producing full-thickness necrosis of the skin. A synergistic effect has been hypothesized as having produced a full-thickness burn in a patient.[16]

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