It’s estimated that early 6,000 Americans spent part of their Fourth of July holiday in the emergency room in 2009 due to fireworks injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Of those, fireworks caused an estimated 1,600 eye injuries. The injuries included contusions, lacerations and foreign bodies in the eye. Some injuries even caused permanent vision loss.
“I’ve treated many eye injuries associated with fireworks,” says Davenport Ophthalmologist Dr. Leonardo Antaris, Quad Cities Retina Consultants. “Most involve kids who treat the fireworks as ordinary toys. They get too close or, as part of their playing, throw the fireworks at each other. Seldom is eye protection worn and there is almost never any adult supervision.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, “safe and sane” fireworks cause more injuries than illegal fireworks, especially to preschool children. For children under the age of 5, half of the total injuries were from sparklers. Children ages 15 and younger make up a significant number of fireworks injuries, accounting for 39 percent.
“The key to prevent injury is proper education,” says Dr. Antaris. “The reality is that many people–of all ages– are going to celebrate with fireworks, so they need to do so as safely as possible. Eye protection, supervision and common sense are the key components to a safe Fourth.”
Eight Ways to Help Prevent Fireworks Injury
1) Determine if it’s legal to shoot fireworks. Laws vary based on where you live. Buy only legal fireworks with a label, manufacturers name and directions. Never try to make your own.
2) Wear safety goggles. Regular eyeglasses are not adequate, and safety goggles won’t prevent other injuries such as burns.
3) If you give kids sparklers, make sure they keep them outside and away from the face, clothing, and hair. Sparklers can reach 1,800° Fahrenheit (982° Celsius) — hot enough to melt gold.
4) Always use fireworks outside and have a bucket of water and a hose nearby in case of accidents.
5) Back away — fireworks have been known to backfire or shoot off in the wrong direction. Never throw or point fireworks at someone, even for fun.
6) Don’t hold fireworks in your hand or have any part of your body over them while lighting.
7) Point fireworks away from homes, and keep away from brush and leaves and flammable substances.
8) Light one firework at a time (not in glass or metal containers), and never relight a dud.
Eight Tips To Help Save An Eye:
1) Do not delay medical attention even for seemingly mild injuries. “Mildly” damaged areas can worsen and end in serious vision loss, even blindness that might not have happened if treatment had occurred immediately.
2) Stay calm, do not panic; keep the child as calm as possible.
3) Do not rub the eye. If any eye tissue is torn, rubbing might push out the eye’s contents and cause more damage. Trying to rub the eye is an automatic response to pain, but pressure will only do more harm. Take the child’s hand from his or her face.
4) Do not rinse out the eye. This can be even more damaging than rubbing.
5) Shield the eye from pressure. Tape or secure the bottom of a foam cup, milk carton or similar shield against the bones surrounding the eye: brow, cheek and bridge of the nose.
6) Avoid giving aspirin or ibuprofen (or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, called “N-SAIDS”) to try to reduce the pain. They thin the blood and might increase bleeding. Acetaminophen is the over-the-counter drug of choice. Unfortunately, non-prescription painkillers will not be of much help. It is better to by-pass the drugstore or medicine cabinet and get to the emergency room right away.
7) Do not apply ointment or any medication. It is probably not sterile. Also, ointments make the eye area slippery. This could slow the doctor’s examination at a time when every second counts.
8) Above all, do not let your child play with fireworks without close supervision. If you must attend a non-professional fireworks display, have all present wear safety goggles (which may not prevent all injuries). Regular glasses will not prevent injury, and may break or shatter if impacted by flying debris. Again, the best option is to attend a professional fireworks display.