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Ophthalmologists Warn that Fireworks-Related Injuries Can Cause Permanent Vision Loss

06/19/2013   10:30:35 AM

American Academy of Ophthalmology urges parents to closely supervise children around fireworks

SAN FRANCISCO – As the Fourth of July holiday approaches and Americans make plans to celebrate the stars and stripes with a little red glare from celebratory rockets, ranging from professional public fireworks displays to amateur impromptu backyard shows, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is urging the public to take important steps to prevent fireworks-related eye injuries. The Academy asks parents and other adults to exercise caution when handling fireworks themselves and to be especially diligent in managing and monitoring their use by children.

Of the more than 9,000 fireworks injuries that occur in the United States each year, [i]  approximately 45 percent are sustained by children age 15 and under.[ii] Eyes are among the most injured body parts,[iii] and one in six fireworks-related eye injuries results in permanent vision loss or blindness.[iv]

All fireworks are dangerous if not properly handled; however, sparklers cause the most injury and are particularly dangerous since many children handle them on their own. Sparklers typically burn at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature is nearly 1,000 degrees hotter than the boiling point of water, double the heat required to burn wood, hot enough to melt glass and cause third-degree burns to the skin.[v] Out-of-control bottle rockets also cause some of the most serious eye injuries, including corneal abrasions, traumatic cataract, retinal detachment, optic nerve damage and rupture of the eyeball – all of which can lead to potential blindness.  

The Academy advises the public that the best way to avoid potentially blinding injuries is to attend a professional public fireworks display instead of putting on a backyard fireworks show. For those who decide to purchase and use legal consumer fireworks, the Academy recommends they follow these safety tips to prevent eye injuries:

  • Never handle fireworks without protective eyewear and ensure that all bystanders are also wearing eye protection.
  • Never let young children play with fireworks of any type. If older children are permitted to handle fireworks, ensure they are closely supervised by an adult and wear protective eyewear.        
  • Clear the area of flammable materials and view fireworks from at least 500 feet away. 
  • Leave the lighting of professional-grade fireworks to trained pyrotechnicians.

For those who attend professional fireworks displays and/or live in communities surrounding the shows:

  • Respect safety barriers at fireworks shows.
  • Do not touch unexploded display (show) fireworks; instead, immediately contact local fire or police departments to help.  

"It's crucial that the public understand the potentially devastating dangers that backyard fireworks shows can present," said Philip R. Rizzuto, M.D., ophthalmologist and communications secretary for the Academy. "The American Academy of Ophthalmology urges parents and responsible adults to be especially vigilant about these risks if children are in the presence of fireworks and follow appropriate safety tips to reduce the risk of eye injury." 

The Academy believes these tips can help to ensure safe Independence Day observances for everyone. If, however, a fireworks-related eye injury occurs, call 911 and seek medical help immediately. These injuries typically need advanced care by an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions. 

For more fireworks safety tips and additional information on how to maintain healthy vision, visit www.geteyesmart.org 

Notes to media: Contact Media Relations to arrange interviews with national and local experts. Local ophthalmologists are available for interview in most states.

PSA directors: Pre-recorded video PSAs, audio from a real 911 fireworks eye injury call and PSA scripts are available upon request. View PSAs at these links:

About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology, headquartered in San Francisco, is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons - Eye M.D.s - with more than 32,000 members worldwide. Eye health care is provided by the three "O's" - ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who can treat it all: eye diseases, infections and injuries, and perform eye surgery. For more information, visit www.aao.org.

About EyeSmart
The American Academy of Ophthalmology's EyeSmart® program educates the public about the importance of eye health and empowers them to preserve their healthy vision. EyeSmart provides the most  trustworthy and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. OjosSanos™ is the Spanish-language version of the program. Visit www.geteyesmart.org or www.ojossanos.org to learn more.


[i] Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2011 Fireworks Annual Report, accessed at http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/113888/2011fwreport.pdf

[ii] Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Fireworks-Related Injuries to Children, accessed at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/108/1/190.full

[iii]Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2011 Fireworks Annual Report, accessed at http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/113888/2011fwreport.pdf

[iv] British Journal of Ophthalmology, Ocular firework trauma: a systematic review on incidence, severity, outcome and prevention, accessed at http://bjo.bmj.com.proxy1.library.jhu.edu/content/94/12/1586.full#ref-11

[v] National Fireworks Protection Agency fireworks tips, accessed at http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/pdf/public%20education/fireworkssafetytips.pdf

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