Meteor explosion injuries will run the gamut from superficial to blunt trauma, experts say

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Published February 15, 2013

| FoxNews.com

As more than 1,000 people seek medical attention for injuries caused by a meteor explosion over Russia’s Ural Mountains Friday, experts say these injuries could range from minor eye scratches to blunt force trauma.

The injuries most likely resulted from the meteor’s sonic blast, which shattered countless windows and caused falling debris. It is estimated the explosions broke more than 1 million square feet of glass.

The meteor, which was assessed to be about 10 tons, entered the Earth’s atmosphere at a hypersonic speed of at least 33,000 miles per hour. It shattered about 18 to 32 miles above the ground, according to the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Chelyabinsk health official Marina Moskvicheva said about 985 people in her city had asked for medical assistance, and the Interfax news agency quoted her as saying 43 had been hospitalized.

Officials said at least 258 schoolchildren were among those injured.

Penetrating and blunt traumas

Dr. Doug Finefrock, vice-chairman and Emergency Department & Trauma Services program director at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, said the types of injuries to be concerned about when there is debris are penetrating and blunt traumas.

“In a penetrating trauma, that can involve injury anywhere in the body,” Finefrock told FoxNews.com. “It’s similar to blast injuries where you see pieces of debris that scatter and enter the body anywhere.”

Finefrock said the most important thing in treating penetrating traumas is identifying the source of the injury, which isn’t always easy. Usually, the patient will complain of pain at the site of the trauma, he said, and the doctor will have to determine the depth of the injury – or how far into the body the object has penetrated.

Penetrating trauma can be superficial skin cuts, lacerations or abrasions, which are easily treated with sutures, he said.

Sometimes surgery is needed for a penetrating trauma, but it depends on the depth of the injury.

Blunt trauma is essentially from a strong force, which can also hit the body at any point from head to toe, Finefrock said.

“For example, if a piece of a building collapsed and hit someone on the head – even if the debris doesn’t enter the brain – the large force of hitting the body can cause significant damage, such as intracerebral bleeding,” Finefrock added.

However, blunt force trauma can lead to a whole series of complications – almost too many to name.  Examples include a collapsed lung, bleeding in the abdominal cavity, fractures – and even life-threatening injuries from losing too much blood.

“Blunt traumas potentially could need surgery,” Finefrock said. “But, the thing is, it’s such a spectrum of injuries; it just depends on how powerfully the force hit the person.”

'That hurts'

Eye injuries are also a strong possibility in explosions like this, said Dr. Michael Ehrenhaus, director of New York Cornea Consultants and director of Cornea External Disease & Refractive Surgery at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

If a person’s eye was hit by glass, the extent of his or her injury will depend on what type of glass hit the eye. All glass is different, Ehrenhaus said; some buildings use shatter-proof glass that is more like plastic, which can bounce off the eye, leaving only a scratch.

But, if a sharp glass object cuts the cornea, “that hurts,” he told FoxNews.com.

Like Finefrock, Ehrenhaus noted the eye injuries would depend on how close the person was to the flying object and how hard he or she was hit.

“The further away they are, the impact isn’t going to hit as hard,” he said. “The closer you are, it can feel like a hot knife slicing through the eye.”

Most of these eye injuries will be fixable, Ehrenhaus said. Many of them will feel irritated, like getting sand in the eye, but usually a doctor will give patients antibiotic eye drops and send them on their way.

For more threatening eye injuries, even if the debris went through the whites of the eye – the eye isn’t necessarily lost, he added.

“Sometimes it can be self-healing; some may need surgery, and some may lose the eye,” he said. “But, the eye is one of the fastest healing parts of the body.”

Panic in Russia

Besides the physical aspects of the meteor strike, psychological ones will undoubtedly occur.

One woman was heard saying this was the ‘end of the world,’ while countless others panicked.
Dr. Keith Ablow, psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A Team, said many people will experience symptoms of anxiety and depression as a result of the meteor explosion.

"People in Russia or America – or anywhere else – spend a lot of psychological energy to build a wall of denial around the fact that we are mortal, that nature is unpredictable,” Ablow said. “For many people, the meteor crashed right through that wall of denial.  In its wake, come all the walled-off feelings that were held back: fear of death, fear of losing loved ones, fear of the earth itself being extinguished."

Ablow said the people in Russia should be reminded that if they feel shaken, it’s OK to seek counseling.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/02/15/meteor-explosion-injuries-will-run-gamut-from-superficial-to-blunt-trauma/