Firework Safety Tips for your Eyes

Author: Premier Eye Associates
It’s the time of year for barbeques, pool parties, fishing, boating, and of course lighting fireworks in the evenings!

While fireworks are fun to set off and watch on a nice cool summer evening, it is important to use the appropriate safety precautions to prevent serious injury.


Statistics on Firework Safety

According to the 2019 Fireworks Annual Report put out by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, eye injuries as a result of misuse of fireworks ranked 3rd on the list of most commonly injured body sites—behind hands/fingers (#1) and legs (#2).

Those injured from fireworks were not necessarily the ones lighting off the fireworks either. In fact, over 2/3 of firework injuries occur to bystanders!

It is also important to note that individuals under the age of 20 made up over half of the 10,000 firework related injuries reported in 2019, with kids under the age of 5 making up 15% of overall injuries.

Injuries from this report ranged from use of sparklers and Snap-Its, to bottle rockets, to large commercial grade explosions.

While they may not be what is initially thought of with firework injuries, sparklers (12%) and firecrackers (11%) were major culprits for emergency room visits.

The most common injury related to fireworks was a burn, or thermal injury, leading with 58% of emergency room visits.

Other injuries include, but are not limited to, cuts, bruises, fractures, hearing loss, vision loss, and even loss of extremities (fingers and toes).


Firework Induced Eye-Related Injuries

With the eyes being toward the top of the list for firework injuries—what exactly can happen to them?


Ocular Burns

Burns are by far the most common eye-related injury secondary to firework use.

Fireworks are dangerous not only because of the hot temperatures that the explosives burn at, but also due to the chemical components within the fireworks.

Burns can be broken down into two major categories—alkaline burns and acid burns.

Believe it or not, alkaline burns actually cause more serious damage to the eyes in comparison to acid burns—however both are serious conditions that require medical care.

Alkali burns can be caused by materials within fireworks including Lithium (responsible for some red-colored fireworks), Sodium (responsible for gold/yellow colored fireworks), and Potassium (used as an oxidizer for many fireworks).

Acid burns can be caused by other firework components include gallic acid, calicyclic acid and benzoic acid.

Alkali burns are worse for the eye in comparison to acid burns because alkali components cause structural damage and re-arrangement of the eye’s physiologic structure. They alter the make-up within membranes, ultimately destroying them, allowing for deeper and faster penetration.

Ultimately, this results in damage to not only the front structures of the eye, but also the back structures as the burn continues to travel backwards.

Acid burns, on the other hand, may look worse—more red and inflamed—but typically stay contained to the front structures of the eye.

When it comes to eye burns—seeing redness is a good sign! A purely white eye that has been burned indicates cell death, and likely more permanent damage.

If someone experiences a firework chemical burn, it is important to NOT rinse the eye out with water. Acid and alkaline burns are treated differently, and water can make the issue worse.

Call 911 and get the individual to the emergency room as quickly as possible. If you know what type or name of the firework that was behind the injury, be sure to let the ER doctors know.


Eye Lacerations/Abrasions

Lacerations are cuts to the eye whereas abrasions are scrapes to the eye.

Lacerations, therefore, are a bit more serious than abrasions, however both are extremely painful.

The cornea, or the very front structure of the eye, contains the most nerves per surface area out of any body part. Thus, even the tiniest injury can result in agonizing pain!

Anything that breaks through the cornea opens the eye up to infection. The deeper and larger the wound, the higher the infection risk becomes.

With fireworks, abrasions can occur but lacerations are more common.

Lacerations can occur from flying debris broken off from fireworks themselves. High velocity projectiles can easily pierce through the eye and become lodged within ocular structures. These kinds of lacerations are called full thickness penetration injuries.

It is important with firework injuries to NOT remove anything stuck in the eye and NOT to rinse the eye out with water or solution.

The best thing you can do in these situations is to lightly cover the eye with clean gauze and call 911.

If there is something stuck within the eye, do not remove the object. If it is small enough, it is recommended to cover the eye with a plastic cup and lightly tape it in place to prevent the injured individual from accidently rubbing the eye or dislodging/moving the object.

In these situations, getting to your local emergency room is the top priority. It is best to leave removal of the firework from the eye to the professionals who are trained to help minimize serious traumatic damage to the ocular structures.


Blunt Trauma/Orbital Fractures

Trauma to the eye from fireworks is not always necessarily penetrating injuries.

Large, dull pieces of fireworks, or even tripping and falling face-first while running away from lighting off a firework, can result in blunt trauma to the eye.

Whenever there is a forceful impact to the eye, the eye is at risk for serious long-term complications.

Immediately evident with injury, a person can experience what is called an orbital blow out fracture, in which the bones surrounding the eye break and the eye is dislocated from its natural position.

The most common location for an orbital fracture is the floor—specifically the maxillary bone.

Signs of a blow out fracture include pain with eye movement, the inability to look in certain directions, a “popping” sound when touching the cheek, loss of feeling to the cheek, swelling, and extensive bruising around the eye.

Within the eye itself, blunt trauma can cause serious damage such as hemorrhages, lens subluxation (dislocation of the crystalline lens within the eye), damage to the iris (the colored part of the eye), and retinal detachment. Therefore, it is essential that if you suspect blunt trauma has occurred, you get your eyes evaluated by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

With any firework associated injury, it is best to go to the emergency room first. The ER doctors will likely perform a CT scan to confirm an orbital fracture.

Post-op visits can be conducted by optometrists and ophthalmologists for long-term care and treatment.


Firework Safety Recommendations For a Safe 4th of July

Fireworks are dangerous, but they can also be a fun event when used with proper safety precautions. Remember, you only get two eyes. Permanent damage to your eyes will result in the inability to enjoy firework shows in the future, so it is best to be safe rather than sorry!

We recommend the following precautions:

Never let children use fireworks (this includes pop-its and sparklers) without adult supervision.

Never run around while holding fireworks (roman candles, sparklers, firecrackers, etc.).

Never point a firework in someone’s direction, this includes projectiles, roman candles, sparklers, smoke bombs, pop-its, etc.

Horseplay should not be allowed near fireworks of any kind.

Do not light fireworks under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Designate a single, responsible individual to be in charge of lighting fireworks, all other individuals should maintain a distance of at LEAST 20 feet from the launch pad.

Keep a bucket of water nearby.

Wear closed-toed shoes when nearby fireworks.

Wear safety glasses when lighting fireworks.

If eye injuries occur when using fireworks—call 911. The injured individual’s sight could be at risk, do not try at home remedies. Seek medical care immediately.


Dr. Anthony Spina and the staff of Premier Eye Associates specialize in glasses, soft contact lenses, hard contact lenses, and medical eye exams. Call our eye doctor in Auburn, AL today at (334) 539-5391 or schedule an appointment online  and we wish you a fun 4th of July and want you to take all  firework safety precautions.  Our optometrist provides only the highest quality eye care services amongst eye doctors in the Auburn Alabama area.

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