While many Americans are eager to resume traditional Fourth of July celebrations this year, it’s important to keep in mind the dangers of fireworks.
Thousands of children wind up in emergency rooms each year with injuries from watching or using fireworks.
For children under the age of 5, sparklers account for nearly half of the total estimated fireworks-related injuries.
After a nontraditional Fourth of July last year, many people anticipate celebrating all things red, white, and blue to the max this year.
However, if fireworks are in your plan, experts advise caution, as many people overlook the dangers they can present.
“Sadly, during the July Fourth weekend, hospitals tend to see an increase in pediatric firework-related injuries… We ask that the public exercise caution when playing with fireworks, supervise nearby children, be mindful of safety measures, avoid playing with fireworks under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and if in any doubt, leave the fireworks to the professionals,” Dr. Anjay Khandelwal, Akron Children’s Hospital’s director of the Paul and Carol David Foundation Burn Institute, told Healthline.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), thousands of children wind up in emergency rooms each year with injuries, and more than a third of all fireworks-related injuries occur in children younger than 15 years old.
Hands, eyes, legs, and the face are the most common sites of injury from watching or using fireworks such as firecrackers, bottle rockets, and sparklers.
In 2018 alone, fireworks started an estimated 19,500 fires.
The best way to protect your family is to avoid using any fireworks, but if you must, experts offer the following tips to help keep your family safe from injury.
1. Stay away from sparklers
While sparklers are often given to children, the tip of a lit sparkler can burn up to 2,000°F and can cause third degree burns.
In fact, the NFPA reports that sparklers account for more than one-quarter of emergency room fireworks-related visits.
“If children are playing with sparklers, ensure they are supervised by a responsible adult at all times, and keep them outside and away from their face, clothing, and hair,” Khandelwal said.
Dr. Chelsea Johnson, associate lead of pediatrics at K Health, advises against using sparklers.
“They may seem relatively harmless, but nearly half of fireworks injuries to children under age 5 are related to sparklers, according to the CPSC [U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission],” she told Healthline.
Johnson stressed that sparklers can easily ignite clothing and cause eye injuries and third degree burns.
2. Only buy legal fireworks
If you plan to buy fireworks, only purchase legal ones with instructions for proper use. Legal fireworks have a label with the manufacturer’s name and directions, whereas illegal ones are unlabeled.
Khandelwal points out that illegal fireworks usually go by the names M-80, M100, blockbuster, or quarter pounder.
“Don’t hold fireworks in your hand while lighting, and don’t carry fireworks in your pocket — the friction could set them off. Even adults should wear safety glasses/goggles when lighting or playing with fireworks,” he said.
Even if fireworks are legal to purchase and use in your community, Johnson warns that they’re not safe around children.
“As states relaxed laws related to fireworks sales during the past decade, emergency doctors have seen an increase in both the number of fireworks-related injuries among children and the severity of those injuries,” she said.
July Fourth is Johnson’s least favorite holiday to work in the pediatric emergency department because many kids come in with burn injuries, hearing loss, and blast injuries.
“Two of my patients have lost an eye and needed prosthetics, another had to see a hand surgeon to repair part of their hand. It’s disheartening and avoidable,” Johnson said.
To avoid injury after fireworks go off, Khandelwal said to keep kids from picking up pieces of fireworks.
“Some of the fireworks may still be ignited and can explode at any time,” he said.
He also suggests keeping a bucket of water, a fire extinguisher, or both nearby if you’re setting off fireworks.
When done with the fireworks, soak them in water before throwing them away.
3. Be aware of social media posts about fireworks
In times of modern social media, children may be exposed to videos of others playing improperly with fireworks or challenging others with unsafe practices.
“Please be mindful of what your child is watching, and ensure they are not learning anything that may cause them harm if repeated or followed,” Khandelwal said.
4. Watch professional fireworks displays
Rather than setting off your own fireworks, Johnson suggests taking kids to professional shows.
“They are much more elaborate and safe. Many can be viewed from parks, stadiums, from your own window, or even televised. Let’s keep the fireworks to the professionals and enjoy the show,” she said.
5. Get help right away if an injury occurs
If you set off fireworks and a bystander sustains a fireworks-related injury, don’t hesitate to seek medical treatment.
While some burns may not appear to be serious, Khandelwal said they may cause permanent scarring and functional impairment.
“Be mindful of first aid for burn-related injuries,” he said, which includes the following steps:
Move away from the source of the burn and stop the burning process.
Run cool (but not cold) water to the area.
Seek medical attention.
“Couple things not to do include: Do not apply ice over a burn, do not apply any home remedies until after consultation with a medical professional, and finally do not delay seeking medical attention. As indicated above, some injuries may be serious,” Khandelwal said.
6. Use alternatives to fireworks
If you’re ready to skip fireworks altogether, consider replacing them with the following:
glow-in-the-dark toys, bubbles, balls, and flying copters
watching a laser show
lighting a campfire
cracking open a piñata