How Can Fireworks Damage My Eyesight?
Human reflexes are fast, but the speed of fireworks and shrapnel is faster than a blink reflex. The damage fireworks can do to your vision can lead to permanent damage or even death. There is no safe way for nonprofessionals to use fireworks and, sometimes, even the professionals have a misstep. That being said, the eyes are among the most injured parts of the body in fireworks accidents. One out of six times, eye injuries caused by fireworks result in permanent vision loss or blindness. Bottle rockets can go out of control and cause serious eye injuries varying from scratches on the eye’s surface called corneal abrasions to actually causing the eyeball to rupture. Other possible injuries include clouding the eye’s lens, known as a traumatic cataract, and retinal detachment.
The retina is the inner lining of the eye. Light entering the eye lands on the retina, where special cells convert the light to electrical impulses carried to the brain by the optic nerve. A retinal detachment occurs when the retina separates from the back of the eye, similar to wallpaper peeling off the wall. When the retina detaches, it can no longer convert visual signals, and vision is lost in that part of the eye. Damage to the retina or the optic nerve can cause permanent blindness.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, fireworks are involved in thousands of injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms each year.
- Fireworks devices were involved in an estimated 11,100 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2016, the latest year for which data is available.
- An estimated 7,600 fireworks-related injuries, or 68% of the total estimated fireworks-related injuries in 2016, were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms.
- Males accounted for 61% of fireworks injuries.
- 31% of fireworks injuries were to children under age 15.
- Young adults 20 to 24 years of age had the highest estimated rate of emergency room visits for fireworks-related injuries. Children younger than 5 years of age had the second-highest estimated rate.
- 69% of the emergency room-treated injuries were a result of burns. 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.
- There were 4 reported fireworks-related deaths in 2016.
What are the Most Dangerous Fireworks To My Vision?
Sparklers. Sparklers actually cause more injuries and can be especially dangerous for children who are allowed to carry them. A typical sparkler burns at a temperature of 1,200 degrees. To put this in perspective, aluminum and glass melt at 1200 degrees. All home fireworks have the potential to be dangerous to your vision if they are not handled correctly.
The National Fireworks Safety Council offers these safety tips to prevent sparkler injuries:
- Light only one sparkler at a time
- Do not hand a lit sparkler to another person. Instead, hand over an unlit sparkler and then light it.
- Stand at least six feet away from others while using sparklers
- Never throw a lit sparkler
- Remain standing while using sparklers, hold them at arm’s length, and never run while holding them
- Do not hold a child in your arms while using sparklers
- Wear closed-toe shoes to prevent foot burns
- Drop spent sparklers in a bucket of water because they can remain hot long after the flame has gone out.
- Sparklers are one thing, but other consumer fireworks are quite another matter.
Firecrackers. Firecrackers are dangerous and become even more dangerous when they get old because they become unstable. Experts claim that most firecrackers are shipped from overseas, and consumers do not know how long the explosives stay on the ship and warehoused before eventually arriving at a retail store.
Even though it looks like a dud, it may not act like one. Injury and serious eye trauma can occur when people mistakenly think that a firework is no longer active or hot. Never touch unexploded fireworks and contact the local fire or police department to handle them properly. Should the firework explode while it is in your hand, it could not only damage your eyes, but there is a real possibility of losing fingers.
Just because you are not lighting or throwing it does not mean you are out of the line of fire. An international study of fireworks-related eye injuries showed that nearly half of the people injured by fireworks were bystanders. The research also found that one in six of these injuries caused severe vision loss. Despite the risks associated with fireworks, only 10% of adults wear eye protection when using them, according to a recent survey by the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Are There Alternatives to Fireworks This New Year?
Prevent Blindness offers alternatives to celebrate the holiday safely:
- Purchase non-toxic glow-sticks, ropes, and jewelry that can safely light the night for kids.
- Have children design and decorate their own New Year’s 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 makeup remover instead of soap. Follow product guidelines for applying products directly around the eyes.
- Make pinwheels or windsocks with a New Years’ theme.
- Wrap flashlights in colored cellophane to provide fun shades of light.
- Create your own noisemakers by banging wooden spoons on pots and pans. Search your house for horns, whistles and bells, and other items ring in the new year.
- Make your own firecracker sounds by popping bubble wrap.
- Make New Year’s rockets by using paper towel rolls, paint, streamers, and paper cement.
What Should I Do If I Sustain an Eye Injury From Fireworks?
If an eye injury from fireworks occurs, remember:
- Seek medical attention immediately.
- Do not rub your eyes.
- Do not rinse your eyes.
- Do not apply pressure.
- Do not remove any objects that are stuck in the eye.
- Do not apply ointments or take any blood-thinning pain medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
Many people, many of them children, suffer eye injuries from fireworks each year in the United States. In the most severe cases, fireworks can rupture the eye’s globe, cause chemical and thermal burns, corneal abrasions, and retinal detachment — all of which can permanently cause eye damage and affect vision. While fireworks can be fun, there is also an element of danger and using them unsafely increases the dangers. Should you have any questions about eye safety or follow through on your new year’s resolution to have an eye exam, contact the optometrists at Jackson Davenport Vision Center.