By Dr. Clayton H. Bryan, MD
There is no denying that fireworks are fun, but perhaps they are best left to the authorized public displays! As an eye surgeon, I see many types of eye injuries each year, but few more disturbing than fireworks related injuries. Approximately 11,900 Americans are treated in Emergency Rooms each year for injuries caused by fireworks. Approximately 16% of these visits are for eye injuries. Estimates show that as many as 400 Americans loose vision permanently in one or both eyes each year due to fireworks related injuries.* Most of these injuries occur around Independence Day and during the New Year’s holiday.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) stated in its annual report, that there were an estimated 8,000 injuries treated in emergency rooms in the United States, around the Fourth of July holiday alone. According to the report, children younger than 15 years of age accounted for approximately 26 % of the estimated injuries. And of the total overall injuries, 16 %, were to the eyes. Burns were the most common injury to all parts of the body, except the eyes, where contusions, lacerations, and foreign bodies in the eyes occurred more frequently.
The statistics never lie! Parents often develop a false sense of security when they know that it is “the other kids” who are actually operating the fireworks. However, statistics show that it is the bystanders that are injured more often than the operators themselves, with bottle rockets being the single most commonly implicated device causing severe eye injury.
So What’s A Parent To Do?
June 1st through July 4th is designated as “Fireworks Safety Month” by the Prevent Blindness organization. It’s a great time to discuss with your kids the dangers and potential risks of fireworks. The best advice I give to parents is simply to avoid purchasing fireworks or allowing your children to use fireworks. When fireworks are used, never allow young children to play with them and closely supervise older children. Protecting your eyes is a must! Use safety glasses or safety goggles whether you are the operator or simply an observer. Remember that regular prescription glasses, sunglasses or contact lenses will provide little or no protection against fireworks injuries and can actually contribute to the injury.
In the unfortunate event that an eye injury does occur, there are some steps to help preserve and protect your child’s sight.
- Never rub the eye as this can cause increased bleeding or it could make the injury worse.
- Though instincts may tell you to rinse out the eye, this too can be more damaging and should be avoided.
- Protection of the eye is the key! The goal is to keep the eye from any further contact with any item, including the victim’s hand. Lightly taping a patch, the bottom of a juice carton, or even a foam cup to cover the eye are a few suggestions to protect the eye while in route to receive medical care.
- Avoid applying ointment as many of these may not be sterile and can hamper the doctor’s exam later.
- Lastly, skip the over-the-counter pain relievers, especially aspirin, as they will do little to relieve this type of pain.
- Most importantly, get the victim to an emergency room as soon as possible.
Enjoy your holiday but make it a safe one and leave the fireworks to the professionals!
Dr. Clayton Bryan, a fellowship trained glaucoma specialist, practices with Carolina Ophthalmology with offices in Hendersonville, Asheville, and Columbus.
* Data provided by the United States Eye Injury Registry, through funding by the Helen Keller Foundation, Birmingham, Alabama, and the Prevent Blindness America Organization.