Fireworks and eye injuries: how to stay safe during Independence Day celebrations

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As the Fourth of July approaches, ophthalmologists warn patients to exercise caution with fireworks.

As people around the U.S. gather to celebrate Independence Day, many forget to consider how to protect themselves from fireworks-related injuries. While viewing a professional display from afar presents few risks, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may cause celebrators to purchase fireworks for an at-home show.

Not only can these explosives cause burns, bruises, and cuts, but they can also have severe consequences for the eye. Ophthalmologists report treating patients for corneal abrasions, globe ruptures, ocular burns, and retinal detachments following fireworks-related incidents.

“Most people just don’t see the harm in sparklers, spinners, firecrackers, and bottle rockets, and they learn too late the necessity of wearing eye protection,” said Dianna Seldomridge, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “It’s best to leave fireworks to the professionals. But if you choose to celebrate with fireworks, wear safety goggles and take all the necessary precautions to keep your family safe.”1

Safety Precautions to Take When Handling Fireworks

  • Wear safety goggles when working with fireworks
  • Read all instructions before using fireworks
  • Stand at least 20 feet away from fireworks after ignition
  • Designate a responsible adult to supervise all fireworks activity, including sparkler use
  • Keep a bucket of water or hose nearby for quick intervention in case of emergency

Sparkler Safety Tips

Sparklers can reach a temperature of 2,000 degrees1, which may cause serious burns. Supervise all use of sparklers and keep water nearby in case of sparks. Do not place sparklers near eyes, whether lit or not—even unlit sparklers can poke an eye.

Spectator Safety Tips

Even if you are not the one lighting the firework, you may still be at risk: 65% of fireworks injuries are sustained by bystanders.2 If you are nearby when others are using fireworks, bottle rockets, or sparklers, wear protective eyewear.

If attending a public fireworks display, respect all safety signage. Stay behind barricades, and pay attention to signage that may limit access. If no signage exists, stay at least 500 feet away from the ignition area.

What to Do If Injury Occurs

If an injury occurs, seek medical attention immediately. Call 911, or drive to the ER. Do not rub, rinse, or apply pressure to the eye. Additionally, do not administer any pain medications until you have consulted a medical professional. If there are foreign bodies in the eye, do not attempt to remove them.

“The most common misconception people have is that the injury is not that serious and can wait for treatment,” says UAB Callahan Eye Hospital ophthalmologist Tyler Hall, MD. “Often people will rinse their eye out with water or rub their eye, but both of these can cause further damage.”3

Take our fireworks and eye safety poll: Which injuries do ophthalmologists see most often?

References
1. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What You Don't Know About Fireworks Can Cost You Your Sight. Newswise. https://www.newswise.com/articles/what-you-don-t-know-about-fireworks-can-cost-you-your-sight. Published June 24, 2021. Accessed June 28, 2021.
2. Fireworks and Eye Safety: What You Need to Know. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/fireworks-and-eye-safety-what-you-need-to-know. Accessed June 28, 2021.
3. How to Respond to an Eye Injury from Fireworks – and What Not to Do. UAB Medicine News. https://www.uabmedicine.org/-/how-to-respond-to-an-eye-injury-from-fireworks-and-what-not-to-do. Accessed June 28, 2021.