June 26, 2019

July 4th fireworks best left to experts


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

Watching fireworks light up the sky during 4th of July celebrations is one of the traditional highlights of summer. Their beauty is magical, but their potential for danger and injury, especially when used at home, should always be considered particularly when children are present.

Doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are urging caution with consumer fireworks as the Fourth of July approaches.

Thousands of people, most often children and teens, are injured each year using consumer fireworks. According to a study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the head, hands, fingers, face and ears are the body parts most commonly injured in fireworks-related injuries. And Prevent Blindness warns that 12 percent of fireworks injuries involve the eyes. Eye injuries include burns and exploded materials that project directly into the eyes.

Vanderbilt doctors treat burns to extremities, eye injuries and hearing loss due to fireworks usage each year.

“Fireworks are explosives and need to be treated as such,” said Corey Slovis, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. “The burns and injuries that result from improper use of fireworks are often devastating and life-altering.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports at least five fireworks-related deaths in the U.S. in 2018 and an estimated 9,100 fireworks-related, emergency department-treated injuries. Of those injuries, 62 percent occurred during the month surrounding the Fourth of July. Firecrackers were the number one cause of injuries, accounting for 19 percent of the estimated injuries. For children under 5 years of age, sparklers accounted for more than half of the total estimated injuries.

The three most common types of fireworks that keep hospital emergency departments busy during this holiday period are bottle rockets, firecrackers and sparklers. Many assume sparklers are a safer alternative for July Fourth fun, but sparklers burn at approximately 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to cause third-degree burns.

“Sparklers should never be close to clothing or other items that could catch fire, and children absolutely should not handle them,” Slovis said.

“Each year, we treat patients with preventable injuries due to fireworks,” said Callie Thompson, M.D., assistant professor of Surgery and a trauma and burn specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “The vast majority of these injuries are burns, but explosion injuries to hands and eyes are also common. These injuries can be extremely devastating and life-changing. As we approach the Fourth of July holiday, we want to remind everyone that fireworks are dangerous explosives and that fireworks injuries are preventable. Please leave the fireworks to the professionals.”

Fireworks safety tips

While it is best to leave fireworks to the professionals, if you plan to have fireworks at your celebration, follow these precautions and set some rules in advance.

  • Always read and follow all warnings and label instructions.
  • Never allow children to play with or light fireworks.
  • The adult lighting the fireworks should always wear eye protection. No one should ever have any part of the body over the fireworks.
  • Use fireworks outdoors only.
  • Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.
  • Always have water handy (a garden hose and a bucket) in case of fire.
  • Light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from the house, and keep away from dry leaves and other flammable materials.
  • Light only one firework at a time.
  • Never throw or point fireworks at other people or animals.
  • Never shoot fireworks in metal or glass containers.
  • Never relight a dud firework. Douse and soak them with water and throw them away.
  • Dispose of fireworks by soaking them in water and then putting them in the trash can.

Extra caution with children

Again, the best way to protect your family is to attend a public fireworks event. The injury prevention experts at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt stress that if you do use fireworks at home, make sure they are legal where you live and also take these additional precautions to keep kids safe:

  • Make sure children are supervised by adults at all times.
  • Never allow children to light or hold any fireworks — not even sparklers. Remember the above: Sparklers burn at temperatures hot enough to melt some metals.
  • Wear safety goggles when lighting fireworks and never wear loose clothing.
  • Again, for all ages, keep a working garden hose, bucket of water and fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Consult the Consumer Product Safety Commission to determine if any of your fireworks have been recalled due to safety concern.

If an injury does occur, especially one involving the eyes seek medical help immediately. Quick action can help save a child’s eyesight in the event of a fireworks mishap.

  • Do not rub the eye because this may increase bleeding or worsen the injury.
  • Do not rinse the eyes out with any liquids as this can cause further damage.
  • Do not apply any pressure to the eyes.
  • Prevent any further contact with the eyes by placing a foam cup over the injured eye.
  • These injuries can be painful, but do not stop for pain medication or administer any medication; time is critical and medications may impede the treatment.
  • Do not apply anything to the injured eye like cream or ointment as these may prevent the doctor from examining the eyes properly.

The best prevention is to not use fireworks at all and leave lighting fireworks, including sparklers, to the professionals. Fireworks are an enjoyable part of Independence Day celebrations across our country, but you’ll enjoy them much more knowing that all members of the family are safe from fireworks injuries. Happy 4th of July!