CHICAGO — Every year, injuries from consumer fireworks send thousands to the emergency room. In fact, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) stated in its annual report that there were an estimated 8,700 injuries treated in emergency rooms in the United States last year, with the majority of those around the Fourth of July holiday.
According to the report, children younger than 15 accounted for approximately 30 percent of the estimated injuries. And of the total overall injuries, 12 percent, or 600, were to the eyes. Burns were the most common injury to all parts of the body, except the eyes, where contusions, lacerations and foreign bodies in the eyes occurred more frequently.
Gary A. Smith, M.D., Dr.PH, president of the Child Injury Prevention Alliance (CIPA), is a pediatric emergency medicine physician and an expert on the damage that consumer fireworks can have on the body. Not only has he written several published studies about fireworks-related injuries, he has treated many of them as well.
One case in particular that left an impression on Dr. Smith was that of a 4-year-old girl who was standing next to her mother as another family member lit a bottle rocket in their back yard. The bottle rocket took an unexpected path and flew toward the girl. Because it happened so quickly, nobody had a chance to react before the rocket struck the girl in the eye. The damage was so severe that the girl sustained permanent vision loss in that eye.
“Unfortunately, this was just one of the many painful and serious injuries to children that I’ve seen related to fireworks over the years,” said Dr. Smith. “Our studies show that parental supervision is not enough to prevent consumer fireworks injuries to children — in fact, children who are simply bystanders and not even handling the fireworks are often injured. The words that I hear when parents bring their child crying in pain to the emergency department after a firework injury are always the same: ‘Doctor, I can’t believe that this happened to my child. I was standing right there, but it happened so fast that I could not do anything in time to stop it from happening.’ These are good parents who simply believed the myth that these products could be used safely. Do not make that mistake with your family.”
Prevent Blindness, the nation’s oldest volunteer eye health and safety organization, offers the following alternatives to celebrate the holiday safely:
• Paint flower pots with red, white and blue paint and glitter. Then, plant a seed.
• Make pinwheels or wind socks with an Independence Day theme.
• After the sun goes down, wrap flashlights in colored cellophane to provide fun shades of light.
• Purchase non-toxic glow-sticks, ropes and jewelry that can safely light the night for kids.
• Create your own noisemakers by banging wooden spoons on pots and pans. Search your house for horns, whistles, bells and other items to create a marching band.
• Make your own firecracker sounds by popping bubble wrap.
• Using yarn, craft sticks, paint and construction paper, families can make the United States flag.
• Make Fourth of July rockets by using paper towel rolls, paint, streamers and paper cement.
• Let kids create in the kitchen by making fun desserts using blueberries, strawberries and whipping cream for star-spangled treats.
• Have children design and decorate their own T-shirts and hats using glow-in-the-dark paints. Add puffy paints and glitter to make them sparkle.
• Use hypoallergenic face paint or make-up to make designs on your child’s face. Adults should apply the face paint and remove it with cold cream or eye make-up remover instead of soap. Follow product guidelines about applying product directly around the eyes.
As a public health-based organization, Prevent Blindness continues to support the development and enforcement of bans on the importation, sale and use of all fireworks and sparklers, except for authorized public displays by competent licensed operators. The group believes such bans are the only effective means of eliminating the social and economic impact of fireworks-related trauma and damage.
For more about the dangers of fireworks, call Prevent Blindness at (800) 331-2020 or log on to preventblindness.org/prevent-eye-injuries-fireworks.
From the July 2-8, 2014, issue