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Fireworks Should Be Handled by Professionals

Breaking News - June 2005 - Week 5

(Jun 29, 2005)

Healthcare in  the News

-- Fireworks are an indispensable part of Fourth of July celebrations, as integral to the festivities as parades, picnics, and family reunions.

Picture of a child playing with sparklers

But the backyard versions of the colorful explosives are also a leading cause of holiday tragedy, sending thousands of Americans to emergency rooms with severe injuries every year.

June is recognized as Fireworks Safety Month in anticipation of officials making their annual warning about the dangers of consumer fireworks.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, emergency room physicians treated an estimated 9,300 fireworks-related injuries in 2003, up from 8,800 the year before.

Nearly three-quarters of those injuries occurred during the one-month period surrounding the Fourth of July. About 6,800 injuries were treated between June 20 and July 20, up from 5,700 injuries during the same period in 2002.

Look for Professional Fireworks Displays

To play it safe, people should attend the professional fireworks displays put on by cities, civic groups, and businesses, rather than host their own private shows using bottle rockets and other fireworks they have bought themselves, says Dr. Pamela F. Gallin, director of pediatric ophthalmology at the Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute, Columbia University.

"Stay away from them," Dr. Gallin says of consumer fireworks. "It's particularly harrowing for us because every year we have seen adults and children who thought they could outfox themselves and have suffered horribly.

"It's terrible. And it's all preventable," she adds.

Prevent Blindness America, the nation's leading volunteer eye health and safety organization, provides examples of injuries suffered in 2003, including a 24-year-old Pennsylvania man killed by a large aerial firework when he bent over the tube to examine it after the device did not launch. He suffered massive head injuries.

Other stories include a 21-year-old college student who required emergency eye surgery after a friend threw five bottle rockets into a Fourth of July crowd. A rocket exploded an inch from her eye, causing severe injuries that resulted in a cataract. And an 8-year-old boy who required eye surgery suffered permanent vision loss after being struck in the eye by a bottle rocket.

Prevent Blindness America spokeswoman Sarah Hecker says these types of tales are far from uncommon.

"It seems like everyone has a story of a fireworks injury, a close call, or an actual accident happening," she notes.

Hecker barely escaped injury herself as a 7-year-old child when a dud firecracker suddenly blew up in her face.

"I remember my ears ringing for a long time after that," she says.

Children remain a particularly vulnerable group. Almost half of the injuries reported in the most recent statistics - 43 percent - happened to children under the age of 15.

Prevent Blindness America recommends that parents tell their children not to gather with people lighting fireworks - even adults.

Among different types of fireworks, firecrackers caused the greatest number of wounds, producing 1,600 injuries in 2003, followed by bottle rockets at 1,000 and sparklers at 700, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Although they seem innocuous, sparklers can burn as hot as 1,800 degrees. Of 700 estimated sparkler injuries in 2003, about 400 happened to children age five or younger.

Fireworks-related injuries most frequently involve hands and fingers, making up 26 percent of total injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Eyes are injured 21 percent of the time, while the head and face are harmed 18 percent of the time.

More than half the injuries, 63 percent, are burns. People suffer contusions (bruises) and lacerations (cuts) about 18 percent of the time.

Find Fun, Safe Ways to Celebrate

Besides attending a public fireworks show, there are other ways to have a fireworks-free Fourth of July.

Prevent Blindness America suggests that parents provide small bags that children can inflate and pop to make a loud bang, or other types of noisemakers; hand out glo-sticks or glo-ropes as a substitute for sparklers; and use novelty flashlights or regular flashlights screened with cellophane to create fun lighting effects.

With a little creativity, you can have a fun and safe holiday - even if you are playing it safe, Hecker says.

Always consult your physician for more information.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.


Safety Tips for When Fireworks Are Used

Recognizing that people will continue to set off fireworks in their back yards, in a field, or on the street, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has some recommendations that may help cut down on accidents and injuries.

Do not allow young children to play with fireworks under any circumstances.

Sparklers, considered by many the ideal "safe" firework for the young, burn at very high temperatures and can easily ignite clothing.

Children cannot understand the danger involved and cannot act appropriately in case of emergency.

Older children should only be permitted to use fireworks under close adult supervision. Do not allow any running or horseplay.

Light fireworks outdoors in a clear area away from houses, dry leaves or grass, and flammable materials.

Keep a bucket of water nearby for emergencies and for pouring on fireworks that do not go off.

Do not try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks. Douse and soak them with water and throw them away.

Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.

Never ignite fireworks in a container, especially a glass or metal container.

Keep unused fireworks away from firing areas.

Store fireworks in a dry, cool place. Check instructions for special storage directions.

Observe local laws.

Never have any portion of your body directly over a firework while lighting it.

And, finally, a reminder from the American Veterinary Medical Association: Protect your pet during the July 4th holiday. The sound of fireworks can terrify your animal. It may run away, perhaps into traffic. A pet's ears are more sensitive than ours. Explosive noises may damage your pet's hearing, or the pet may be injured by a falling firecracker. Remember, pets and fireworks do not mix.

Always consult your physician for additional information.


Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Veterinary Medical Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Consumer Product Safety Commission

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

National Library of Medicine

National SafeKids Campaign

Prevent Blindness America

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