Can airbags cause hearing loss?

David M. Vernick, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology)
Some people whose lives were saved by air bags during car crashes have become partially or totally deaf as a result of the 170-decibel (dB) sound made when an air bag is deployed. Cars sold in the United States are more likely to cause the problem because they are required to have larger, more powerful air bags than cars sold elsewhere in the world.

Keeping your windows rolled up may help. Research presented at a meeting of the National Hearing Conservation Association showed that having car windows rolled up was less dangerous to the ears than having them rolled down because it creates a higher pressure that may be somewhat protective when an air bag is deployed.
There is about 160 decibels of noise created by air bag deployment. This can cause barotrauma (pressure trauma) to the eardrum to the extent to cause tympanic membrane rupture. It is possible that the result will be low-frequency hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.