Eye physicians and surgeons remind the public that fireworks are not toys
SAN FRANCISCO — Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on consumer fireworks, which cause more than 9,000 injuries a year.[i],[ii] With the Fourth of July holiday just weeks away, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is reminding the public that fireworks are not toys but incendiary devices that can cause devastating eye injuries. The Academy is issuing tips to help deter dangerous Independence Day celebrations.
American emergency rooms treated 5,200 fireworks injuries the two weeks before and after Independence Day, according to a 2013 Consumer Product Safety Commission report.[iii] Nearly half of the reported injuries occurred in people under 20 years old, while 30 percent involved children under age 15. Eye injuries caused by fireworks range from corneal abrasions – scratches on the surface of the eye – caused by airborne debris, to more serious, potentially blinding injuries such as retinal detachment and rupture of the eyeball.
Pediatric ophthalmologist David Epley, M.D., an Academy clinical spokesperson, recounted the worst fireworks-related eye injury he has ever seen: A 12-year-old boy was "blowing up" objects with friends using M-80 fireworks, which are illegal in all states by federal law.[iv] A tuna can they had placed under the M-80 exploded, driving a shard of metal a distance of 30 feet and into the boy's eye. The metal lacerated his cornea and ruptured his lens before settling in the back wall of his eye, tearing the retina in the process. During emergency surgery, the laceration was repaired, the lens was removed and the metal extracted, but the damage to his retina could not be fixed. "In one instant, he went from normal vision, to blind in that eye forever," said Dr. Epley.
The Academy advises Fourth of July revelers to avoid potentially blinding injuries from bottle rockets, sparklers and other fireworks by attending a professional public display instead of igniting consumer fireworks.
For those who attend professional fireworks displays or live in communities surrounding public fireworks shows, the Academy recommends that viewers:
- Respect safety barriers at fireworks shows. View fireworks from at least 500 feet away.
- Avoid touching unexploded display fireworks. Instead, immediately contact local fire or police departments for help.
For those who decide to purchase consumer fireworks because they live in states where they are legal, the Academy recommends following these safety tips to prevent eye injuries:
- Never let young children play with fireworks of any type, even sparklers, which can burn at up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.[v]
- People who handle fireworks should always wear protective eyewear that meets parameters set by the American National Standards Institute ANSI if handling fireworks and ensure that all bystanders are also wearing eye protection. ANSI-approved protective eyewear can be easily purchased from most hardware stores.
- Leave the lighting of professional-grade fireworks to trained pyrotechnicians.
"People should remember that the key word in fireworks is 'fire,'" said Philip R. Rizzuto, M.D., ophthalmologist and secretary for communications for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "Sparklers can burn more than 1,000 degrees hotter than the boiling point of water. So, fireworks should not be thought of as toys, but devices that can cause third-degree burns. This is why people must be vigilant and take precautions to avoid the risk of serious eye injury."
If an eye injury from fireworks occurs, remember:
- Seek medical attention immediately.
- Do not rub your eyes.
- Do not rinse your eyes.
- Do not apply pressure.
- Do not remove any objects that are stuck in the eye.
- Do not apply ointments or take any blood-thinning pain medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
For additional information about fireworks safety, including the Academy's fireworks injury infographic, visit EyeSmart.
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 has the education and training to treat it all: eye diseases, infections and injuries, and perform eye surgery. For more information, visit www.aao.org. The Academy's EyeSmart® program educates the public about the importance of eye health and empowers them to preserve healthy vision. EyeSmart provides the most trusted and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. OjosSanos™ is the Spanish-language version of the program. Visit EyeSmart or OjosSanos to learn more.
[i] Average calculated from fireworks revenue data from the American Pyrotechnic Association.
[ii] Fireworks Annual Report, 2013 Consumer Product Safety Commission.
[iii] Fireworks Annual Report, 2013 Consumer Product Safety Commission.
[iv] American Pyrotechnic Association, http://www.americanpyro.com/banned-illegal-explosives