June 30, 2021

July 4th fireworks best left to experts

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Bottle rockets, firecrackers and sparklers cause common injuries among July 4th fireworks.

With cities opening up after a 16-month closure due to COVID-19 restrictions, many are anticipating larger-than-life celebrations to fill the skies over the coming days to mark Independence Day.

As people commemorate the national holiday, eye and hand surgery experts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center urge caution when handling fireworks.

“While fireworks can be enjoyable to watch, they can be extremely dangerous,” said Sylvia Groth, MD, assistant professor at Vanderbilt Eye Institute. “We just want to remind people that you can experience devastating vision loss if you are not properly handling fireworks.”

During a 12-hour period in 2020, Groth and her team treated 11 firework injuries. The majority were children.

“We are not talking about a bit of singeing of eyelashes,” she stressed. “We treated injuries from projectile fireworks. These patients will be forever impacted by their injuries.”

Many think sparklers are a safe alternative, but they are responsible for most injuries in children 5 years old and younger. Sparklers burn at about 2,000 degrees — hot enough to melt some metals — and can quickly ignite clothing and cause severe burns to the face, hands and feet.

Groth said injuries ranged from chemical burns with cornea involvement, lid lacerations, orbital floor fractures (blowout fractures) and ruptured globes (meaning the eye was cut open).

An adult patient treated the evening of July 4, 2020, said he learned the hard way about the dangers of fireworks at home.

“We were shooting fireworks like we do every year, and one of the big mortars didn’t shoot off like it was supposed to,” said the patient who asked to remain anonymous. “Part of the firework got into my left eye when it exploded on the ground in front of me. My children were freaking out because of the blood coming from my eye, running down the side of my face.

“Fireworks are not for kids. I’d caution people to stay away from them completely, but if people are going to do them, use safety glasses. It would not have prevented my accident, but it would have protected my eyes.”

‘Fireworks are not for kids’

Groth agrees, stressing that protective goggles or clear shatter-proof protective glasses are recommended when handling fireworks, and groups “should not shoot them at each other. They are not toys.”

Brinkley Sandvall, MD, assistant professor of Plastic Surgery, Division of Hand and Upper Extremity Surgery at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, said most fireworks injuries impact the hand, face and/or eyes.

“Injuries have been reported with every fireworks type,” Sandvall said. “Shells and mortars tend to cause the most devastating injuries, but all fireworks are dangerous — to both active users and to bystanders.”

Sandvall said children are most often bystanders.

“In both children and adults, severe hand injuries from fireworks often affect multiple fingers and cause broken bones as well as injuries to muscles, tendons, nerves and skin,” said Sandvall. “Many of these injuries require prolonged hospital stays and multiple surgeries, and result in amputation, stiffness and long-term impairment.”

The National Safety Council offers the following tips:

  • Never allow young children to handle fireworks.
  • Anyone using fireworks or standing nearby should wear protective eyewear.
  • Never hold lighted fireworks in your hands.
  • Only use them away from people, houses and flammable material.
  • Only light one firework at a time and maintain a safe distance after lighting.
  • Do not try to re-light or handle malfunctioning fireworks.
  • Soak both spent and unused fireworks in water for a few hours before discarding.
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby to fully extinguish fireworks that don’t go off, or in case of fire.