As sunny days grow longer, West Texans grow excited for Independence Day and the staples of the season: swimsuits, barbeque and—of course—fireworks. Some enjoy lighting the fuses themselves while others prefer to view them with small groups of family and friends. Either way, there are precautionary steps that should be taken to protect one’s eyes and hands from the pyrotechnic hoopla.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 19 percent of the more than 9,000 fireworks-related injuries in 2018 were to the eyes. Kelly Mitchell, M.D., a professor in the TTUHSC Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, said approximately 30 percent of those eye injuries were to children, and that all of those affected, regardless of age can suffer a significant eye injury to one or both eyes, permanent decrease in visual acuity, complete vision loss or the loss of an eye.
To protect the eyes and promote overall safety during the use of fireworks, Dr. Mitchell recommends careful planning beforehand. The first sign of firework preparedness is obtaining the proper protective equipment.
“The data in our preventative medicine studies clearly show that goggles prevent the vast majority of eye injuries that occur across activities that we do for fun—sports, woodworking and fireworks celebrations,” said Mitchell, who believes all participants, even those watching, should use safety glasses for protection.
Mitchell pointed out that most local home improvement stores stock good quality glasses which can be purchased for as little as $10. Many online sources for safety glasses are also available, and provide appropriately-sized options for adults and children. Additionally, Mitchell said that anyone igniting fireworks should wear appropriate gloves to prevent injury and burns to the hands.
For those who would rather not pay for protective gear, Mitchell offers a reminder of the value of prevention.
“The only thing more expensive than being safe is being unsafe,” said Mitchell. “Emergency room visits, going to surgery and all the follow up care... versus a $10 pair of these goggles.”
Preparation also includes strict adult supervision. If adolescents are going to be allowed to light fireworks, Mitchell recommends limiting permission to those that are old enough to have a driver's license.
“There really isn't a safe firework that you can give a child,” said Mitchell, who advises that younger children only be allowed to watch fireworks. Although sparklers often are considered the safest fireworks for children, Mitchell said adults should carefully supervise their use and provide eye protection and gloves.
“Sparklers burn at about 2,000 degrees,” explained Mitchell. “About ten times the temperature of boiling water.”
Knowing where and when these colorful fuses will ignite is crucial. Mitchell suggested picking a safe place to light the fireworks that is a safe distance away from people (this will depend on the type of fireworks—the larger and more powerful types need a larger safe zone).
His other suggestions include having available water supply and avoiding lighting fireworks near woodpiles, flammable liquids, vehicles or piles of other fireworks. Afterwards, all unused fireworks should be either soaked in water and discarded or secured in a cool, dry location.
Even during well-planned celebrations, injuries can occur. If someone does suffer an injury to the eye, Mitchell advises resisting any temptation to try and remove material from the eyelid or the eye surface.
“I think the best thing to do,” said Mitchell, “is to calmly help that person get to an emergency room where they can be evaluated.”
For additional advice on ear safety, eye safety and protection from COVID-19 this Independence Day, review TTUHSC’s expert-recommended tip sheet.