Blast Injuries Blast Injuries
Center for Disease Control and Prevention–Emergency Preparedness and Response

Bombs and explosions can cause unique patterns of injury seldom seen outside combat Expect half of all initial casualties to seek medical care over a one-hour period Most severely injured arrive after the less injured, who bypass EMS triage and go directly to the closest hospitals Predominant injuries involve multiple penetrating injuries and blunt trauma Explosions in confined spaces (buildings, large vehicles, mines) and/or structural collapse are associated with greater morbidity and mortality Primary blast injuries in survivors are predominantly seen in confined space explosions Repeatedly examine and assess patients exposed to a blast All bomb events have the potential for chemical and/or radiological contamination Triage and life saving procedures should never be delayed because of the possibility of radioactive contamination of the victim; the risk of exposure to caregivers is small Universal precautions effectively protect against radiological secondary contamination of first responders and first receivers For those with injuries resulting in nonintact skin or mucous membrane exposure, hepatitis B immunization (within 7 days) and age-appropriate tetanus toxoid vaccine (if not current) Blast Injuries Primary: Injury from over-pressurization force (blast wave) impacting the body surface TM rupture, pulmonary damage and air embolization, hollow viscus injury Secondary: Injury from projectiles (bomb fragments, flying debris) Penetrating trauma, fragmentation injuries, blunt trauma Tertiary: Injuries from displacement of victim by the blast wind Blunt/penetrating trauma, fractures and traumatic amputations Quaternary: All other injuries from the blast Crush injuries, burns, asphyxia, toxic exposures, exacerbations of chronic illness Primary Blast Injury Lung Injury Signs usually present at time of initial evaluation, but may be delayed up to 48 hrs Reported to be more common in patients with skull fractures, >10% BSA burns, and penetrating injury to the head or torso Varies from scattered petechiae to confluent hemorrhages Suspect in anyone with dyspnea, cough, hemoptysis, or chest pain following blast CXR: “butterfly” pattern High flow O2 sufficient to prevent hypoxemia via NRB mask, CPAP, or ET tube Fluid management similar to pulmonary contusion; ensure tissue perfusion but avoid volume overload Endotracheal intubation for massive hemoptysis, impending airway compromise or respiratory failure Consider selective bronchial intubation for significant air leaks or massive hemoptysis Positive pressure may risk alveolar rupture or air embolism Prompt decompression for clinical evidence of pneumothorax or hemothorax Consider prophylactic chest tube before general anesthesia or air transport Air embolism can present as stroke, MI, acute abdomen, blindness, deafness, spinal cord injury, claudication High flow O2; prone, semi-left lateral, or left lateral position Consider transfer for hyperbaric O2 therapy Abdominal Injury Gas-filled structures most vulnerable (esp. colon) Bowel perforation, hemorrhage (small petechiae to large hematomas), mesenteric shear injuries, solid organ lacerations, and testicular rupture Suspect in anyone with abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, hematemesis, rectal pain, tenesmus, testicular pain, unexplained hypovolemia Clinical signs can be initially subtle until acute abdomen or sepsis is advanced Ear Injury Tympanic membrane most common primary blast injury Signs of ear injury usually evident on presentation (hearing loss, tinnitus, otalgia, vertigo, bleeding from external canal, otorrhea) Other Injury Traumatic amputation of any limb is a marker for multi-system injuries Concussions are common and easily overlooked Consider delayed primary closure for grossly contaminated wounds, and assess tetanus immunization status Compartment syndrome, rhabdomyolysis, and acute renal failure are associated with structural collapse, prolonged extrication, severe burns, and some poisonings Consider possibility of exposure to inhaled toxins (CO, CN, MetHgb) in both industrial and terrorist explosions Significant percentage of survivors will have serious eye injuries Disposition No definitive guidelines for observation, admission, or discharge Discharge decisions will also depend upon associated injuries Admit 2nd and 3rd trimester pregnancies for monitoring Close follow-up of wounds, head injury, eye, ear, and stress-related complaints Patients with ear injury may have tinnitus or deafness; communications and instructions may need to be written