Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital Experts urge safety around July 4 fireworks

Every year, around the Fourth of July, experts at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt see fireworks-related injuries — everything from burns and abrasions to serious eye damage, and even blindness. This year, doctors say, they hope parents will opt for a professional fireworks show rather than something in the back yard, put on by amateurs. National statistics show 10 percent of firework injuries are sustained by toddlers and injuries are most likely when children have fireworks without adequate supervision.

“We will see about five serious fireworks-related injuries to the eye in our pediatric ophthalmology practice this year, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg,” said David Morrison, M.D., assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Pediatrics with the Tennessee Lion’s Eye Center at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. “About 40 percent of injuries from fireworks involve the eye or face, and of those, bottle rockets are responsible for more than half.”

Morrison says the concussive force of a bottle rocket explosion in or around the eye can cause lacerations to the eyelid, damage to the cornea, bleeding within the eye, as well as complete rupture of the eye’s globe.

“About one-third of those injuries will progress to permanent vision loss,” Morrison said. “In rare cases, the inflammation caused by injury to one eye can trigger a person’s own immune system to attack the healthy eye as well. In those cases, we have to remove the damaged eye to save the remaining eye.”

While older children are the usual victims of bottle rocket injuries, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital physicians have even treated toddlers injured as bystanders by bottle rockets that misfire or are poorly aimed. Children are at also at high risk of burn injuries from sparklers and other types of fireworks.

“Class C fireworks are available commercially in Tennessee, so there is more potential for danger in this state than others,” Morrison said. “But the risk of vision loss alone is such that we say no firework is a safe firework, and all should be handled by professionals. However, if a parent does decide to go against this advice, close supervision is an absolute necessity.”

Tips to reduce injuries

  • Never let a child handle any fireworks without direct adult supervision.
  • Don’t hand sparklers to children under age 5.
  • Make children stand still with sparklers.
  • Keep a bucket of water to immerse all fireworks after use.
  • Dispose of any unused fireworks to decrease the possibility children can use them unsupervised.

Carole Bartoo