Plastic surgeons in Australia have called for modifications to car airbags to reduce the risk of drivers getting badly burned when the bags inflate in a crash, though the numbers are apparently low.

According to news agency AAP, specialists have revealed a case where a 34-year-old Melbourne woman sustained deep, second-degree burns from extremely hot gases pumped into the airbag on impact.

The woman noticed "white powder and smoke" rising from the bag before realising her hand was red, swollen and burned, the Melbourne doctors reported in the journal Emergency Medicine Australasia.

AAP noted that research has shown that drivers can suffer serious burns from nitrogen and carbon dioxide as hot as 500 degrees C that escapes as airbags deflate.

Doctors Vivek Kumar Sinha and Kirstie MacGill, from the department of plastic surgery at Box Hill Hospital in Melbourne, reportedly said there had been "a few" reports of airbag burns in Australia in recent years.

In this case, the airbags deployed after a mid-speed collision with another car.

"(The driver) remembers the airbag being deployed before noticing white powder and smoke emanating from it," Dr MacGill was quoted as saying. "It was only later that she realised she had received a burn injury to her right hand and was puzzled as to how that had happened. It was painful, became red and swollen, and later blistered."

Doctors realised she had suffered "deep dermal" or second-degree burns that take longer to heal and risk scarring.

According to the report, MacGill also said airbags also had been linked to abrasions, lacerations, contusions, upper limb fractures and damage to the throat, eyes and ears though these injuries were not the result of an airbag malfunction but its intrinsic design.

"Certainly injuries such as burns are a small price to pay for the greater safety provided by airbags during a collision," the authors wrote, according to AAP.

"However, with the increasing use of airbags today, this case report points towards the need for more research into possibly modifying the design of airbags with the aim of decreasing these injuries," they added, according to the report.