Fourth of July doesn’t officially arrive until Wednesday, but celebrations will no doubt begin as early as this weekend. In fact, you may have already been hearing the sound of fireworks going off over the last week or so.
Fireworks are a beautiful and fun part of celebrating Independence Day, but they also can be a dangerous, even deadly part if you’re not careful and respectful.
More than 11,000 people went to the emergency room with injuries from fireworks in 2016, according to the most recent data available from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Children younger than 15 years of age accounted for 31 percent of the estimated 2016 injuries, and 69 percent of the emergency department-treated injuries were burns.
Here in Franklin County, the emergency department at Mercy Hospital Washington sees people with injuries from fireworks just about every year, said Dr. Bret Riegel, medical director of the ER. Some years are worse than others.
So far this summer, the hospital hasn’t seen any fireworks-related injuries, but Dr. Riegel expects that could change over the next week unless people take precaution.
Sparklers Burn at 1800 Degrees
The types of injuries caused by fireworks range from minor burns to loss of a finger or even blindness.
Injuries can be caused from all kinds of fireworks as well as the punks used to light fireworks, said Dr. Riegel, noting even the seemingly innocent sparklers have the potential to cause second-degree or worse burns.
“Sparklers are crazy hot,” he remarked. “That’s an active flame.”
Dr. Glenn Sanford with Mercy Ophthalmology, Washington, said it’s a myth that sparklers are safe for young children.
Sparklers burn at 1800 degrees, which is hot enough to melt some metals, he said, noting sparklers were responsible for most of the injuries to children age 5 and younger.
Minor burns can probably be treated at home by running cold water over it or using other first-aid treatments, said Dr. Riegel. But blistering burns should be seen by an emergency physician.
Potential to Lose a Finger or Eye
Exploding fireworks have the potential to cause serious hand injuries, ranging from a minor burn to something more serious, like the loss of a finger.
Dr. Riegel has treated those types of injuries during his time here at Mercy Hospital Washington, as well as when he worked at other hospitals.
But the most serious injuries are usually those caused by projectile fireworks, said Dr. Riegel. Those are typically eye injuries.
“These can be caused from simple bottle rockets to Roman candles, which some people are crazy enough to shoot at each other in fun,” he said. “I’ve seen that kind of stuff many times.”
People also should be cautious when using artillery shell fireworks that are dropped in a tube before they go off.
“The tube can fall over and fire at people, or I’ve seen people get hit because they lit a firework and it immediately took off before they could even get their head out of the way after they dropped it into the container,” said Dr. Riegel.
Don’t Underestimate the Power
People who plan to use fireworks or even attend parties where other people are using them can take the first step toward protecting themselves by being mindful of the power of fireworks.
“Most people totally underestimate the power of what they’re dealing with,” said Dr. Riegel. “Even if it’s a bottle rocket, they underestimate what will happen if that hits you in the face. It looks like such an innocent little thing.
“What I tell my own kids and friends is treat what you have in your hand with respect. If you use fireworks with caution, they can be a lot of fun, but you have to realize the power of what you are holding, whether it is a sparkler or a bottle rocket or you are dropping one of those artillery shells down into the canister — realize what can go wrong and what can happen. There are people who look down into an artillery shell canister when it doesn’t go off and then it goes off.
“So realize what could go wrong and don’t put yourself in a position where you can get hurt if something happens,” said Dr. Riegel. “Have fun, but realize what you’re dealing with.”
What to Do if You’re Injured From Fireworks
Eye injuries from fireworks can be some of the most serious. Every year, ophthalmologists and optometrists treat thousands of patients who suffer a range of fireworks-related injuries, from abrasions, cuts and bruises to damaged corneas and ruptured eyeballs, said Dr. Sanford.
“All of us at Mercy pray that your holiday celebration is safe and memorable. However, if you experience a fireworks injury we urge you to minimize the damage by following these guidelines:
• Seek medical attention immediately.
• Do not rub the eye. Rubbing may make the injury worse.
• Do not attempt to rinse the eye.
• Do not apply pressure to the eye.
• Do not remove objects from the eye.
• Do not apply ointments or take pain medications before seeking medical help.”
Common Myths, Debunked
Dr. Sanford shared four more fireworks myths, and the truth about them:
Myth: It’s safer to view fireworks than it is to light or throw them.
Truth: Bystanders are injured by fireworks as often as the operators. Stacy Young was 100 yards away when an illegal firework sent shrapnel into her skull. Ophthalmologists couldn’t save her eye. It had to be removed.
Myth: Consumer fireworks are safe.
Truth: Sparklers and firecrackers each account for 1,400 injuries to the eyes.
Myth: It’s safe to pick up a firework after it has been lit.
Truth: Even though it looks like a dud, it may not act like one. When Javonte McNair, 14, picked up a previously lit firework, it exploded, severing his hand and blasting hot debris into his eye, causing severe damage to his cornea.
Myth: It’s not the Fourth of July without consumer fireworks.
Truth: The Fourth can be complete without using consumer fireworks. The American Academy of Ophthalmology advises that the safest way to view fireworks is to watch a professional show.
To help ensure people get the facts about fireworks, the Academy also created an animated public service announcement, “Fireworks: The Blinding Truth,” said Dr. Sanford. Visit the Academy’s EyeSmart® website by clicking the link located on the Mercy Ophthalmology webpage at www.Mercy.Net/BetterVision for more information about fireworks eye safety.