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How to Avoid Eye Injuries from Fireworks

As the Fourth of July approaches, ophthalmologists at the John A. Moran Eye Center remind us that eye injuries are among the highest reported fireworks injuries.

"We always see an uptick in eye injuries around this time," says Jeff Pettey, MD. "Whether it's debris blown into eyes during big commercial fireworks displays or more serious injuries that take place at home when projectiles hit the eye. These injuries often result in the need for sight-saving eye surgery—or in the worst cases—vision loss. The frustrating thing is, most fireworks accidents are preventable."

Just because fireworks are legal doesn't mean they're safe

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, although the most disabling injuries occur with illegal fireworks, the highest numbers of injuries come from the legal fireworks parents buy for their children—including sparklers, firecrackers, bottle rockets, and Roman candles.

Though sparklers may seem harmless, they typically burn at 1,800 degrees or more—enough to melt some metals. They should not be handled by young children who may not understand the danger.

Equip older children who have sparklers with safety glasses and gloves. Provide supervision from the time you light the sparklers to when you douse and safely dispose of them in a bucket of water.

"In addition to protecting kids with sparklers, if you're going to put on your own fireworks show, please wear safety glasses and provide them for family and friends," says Pettey. "Regular glasses or sunglasses won't prevent injuries. In fact, they are more likely to break and shatter and cause more harm."

Fireworks safety tips

  • Clear the area where you'll be lighting fireworks of flammable materials such as dry leaves or grass and make sure bystanders only view the show from at least 500 feet away.
  • Never pick up a firework and look down the barrel after it has been lit. Even though it looks like a dud, it may not act like one. So-called duds can and do explode while being held, blasting hot debris into eyes.
  • Keep a bucket of water nearby for emergencies and for pouring on fireworks that fail to ignite or explode.
  • Keep unused fireworks away from the firing area.
  • Never have any portion of your body directly over fireworks while lighting.

If you receive a firework injury to the eye...

  • Don't panic and keep the victim as calm as possible.
  • Get medical attention immediately. Even if the injury seems mild, the damaged area may worsen if you don't get proper treatment right away.
  • Don't touch or rub the eye.
  • Avoid rinsing the injured eye since that can do even more damage than rubbing it. Instead, shield the eye by covering with a paper cup or something similar that won't make contact with the eye. Gently tape the shield there for a temporary eye patch.
  • Never attempt to remove an object stuck in the eye.
  • Do not apply ointments or take pain medications before getting medical help.

"We wish everyone a safe and happy holiday," says Pettey. "Make it so by planning ahead and talking to your kids before the fireworks begin."