E-cigarette explosions and the injuries they cause are often described in the press as isolated incidents or rare occurrences, but a new study by researchers in Virginia and Texas shows that e-cigarette blasts are vastly underestimated.

The study, based on an analysis of data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), found that U.S. hospitals treated an estimated 2,035 patients for burn injuries related to an e-cigarette explosion between 2015 and 2017.

According to MedPage Today, lead researcher Matthew Rossheim, PhD, MPH, of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, said that the study’s estimates are more than 40 times higher than the number of e-cigarette related injuries reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2009 to 2015 and 15 times higher than the number of injuries reported by the U.S. Fire Administration from 2009 to 2016.

The lack of a centralized data or surveillance system makes it difficult to quantify e-cigarette explosion injuries. Previous estimates have been based on case studies, reports from federal agencies, and cases reported by the media.

“There’s really no surveillance system in place to track these injuries. But we know that very serious injuries have occurred, including the loss of eyes and teeth, and we know these injuries have become more common,” Dr. Rossheim told MedPage Today.

For the study, published in the journal Tobacco Control as “Electronic cigarette explosion and burn injuries, US Emergency Departments 2015–2017,” the researchers searched data from the CPSC’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System using 27 key terms to identify e-cigarette explosions and burn injuries treated in emergency departments from 2015 to 2017, then adjusted for conservative estimates.

The study found that e-cigarette burn injury patients were primarily young white males with a median age of 26. Sixty-nine percent of e-cigarette related injuries were treated and released in the same visit while 26 percent were either transferred to another unit, admitted, or held for observation. About five percent of the patients left the ER without being seen.

Nearly all the injuries (97 percent) were burns, and most of those injuries (61 percent) occurred on the upper leg. Hands and fingers were the second most-affected parts of the body, with 26 percent of the burn injuries occurring there.

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