By Dr. Mark S. Siegel
I recall a few extraordinary patients during my ophthalmology residency who have left an indelible memory. One such patient was a 13 year old who was playing with an M-80 explosive device that he placed in a soup can. The subsequent explosion sent shards of metal that were absorbed by his face and one of his eyes. The metal perforated his cornea and lens and lodged in the back wall of his eye in his retina. After multiple surgeries, he can see a hand waved in front of his face.
I really hate to be a buzz kill before this Fourth of July holiday — what should be a time when wonderful memories are made with family and loved ones.
Unfortunately, more than 9,000 fireworks injuries happen each year on average in the United States, with roughly 1 in 8 fireworks injuries harming the eyes, according to the most recent fireworks injury report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Common fireworks eye injuries include burns, lacerations, abrasions, retinal detachment, optic nerve damage and ruptured eyeballs.
Those injured are not necessarily handling the explosives themselves. In fact, nearly half of people injured by fireworks are bystanders, according to an international study. Children are frequent victims: 30 percent who sustained a fireworks injury near the Fourth of July holiday are ages 15 and under, according to the commission report.
Even 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.
Fireworks Safety Tips
The best way to avoid a potentially blinding fireworks injury is by attending a professional public fireworks show rather than purchasing fireworks for home use.
For those who attend professional fireworks displays and/or live in communities surrounding the shows:
• Respect safety barriers at fireworks shows and view fireworks from at least 500 feet away.
• Do not touch unexploded fireworks; instead, immediately contact local fire or police departments to help.
For those who decide to purchase consumer fireworks because they live in states where they are legal, such as South Carolina, follow the following safety tips to prevent eye injuries:
• Never let children play with fireworks of any type, even sparklers.
• Adults handling fireworks should always wear protective eyewear that meets the parameters set by the American National Standards Institute and ensure that all bystanders are also wearing eye protection.
• Leave the lighting of professional-grade fireworks to trained pyro technicians.
Remember, if an eye injury from fireworks occurs, seek medical attention immediately.