As the Fourth of July rapidly approaches, kids around the country have begun stockpiling their mini arsenals of fireworks. I, too, remember hiding my bottle rockets, Saturn Missile Battery, Roman candles, M-80s and assorted firecrackers from my parents. In many towns, fireworks are illegal and police and fire departments across the country have sent out warnings about the risks and dangers involved.
Since many of the injuries happen to children left unsupervised, perhaps a few words from a pediatric ear, nose and throat surgeon will make parents extra careful this Independence Day.
What has become clear is that shooting off fireworks can quickly become extremely dangerous. Perhaps the gang at “Yo Gabba Gabba” should remind everyone to “not point fireworks at your friends.”
Forty percent of fireworks mishaps also injure bystanders. When examining why people are injured from fireworks, it is clear that in many cases it is from misuse. It’s generally not a good idea to hold fireworks in your hand to throw them. I used to hold the bottle rockets in my hand and watch the fuse go down and try to throw them just before they ignited. Thankfully, I have all my fingers but many children this year may not be so lucky.
There also can be device failures, which are especially common with flares and fountain-type fireworks. If one appears to be a dud, it is generally not advisable to peek at it right away. There are a host of rocket-type fireworks that can produce dramatic displays in the sky. They can also cause blast injuries, soft tissue disruption and bony injuries.
The problem is that even seemingly innocuous things like sparklers can cause injury. They burn at over 1,000 degrees and contain toxic metals. They are second only to firecrackers in causing fireworks-related injuries.
Fireworks can do terrible damage. Every summer emergency rooms take care of people who have burns, eye injuries, hearing loss and trauma. The eye injuries can be severe and visually devastating. The worst injuries seem to come from people trying to make homemade explosives. Parents should be wary. Some time ago, I too thought it was cool to collect the powder from a bunch of simple firecrackers and make a large bomb to blow up a mailbox.
As a pediatric surgeon, I am well aware of the consequences to hearing that can be caused by extremely loud sounds. Some fireworks can be as loud as 140 decibels, certainly enough to cause permanent hearing loss and, if close enough to the ear, perforation of the eardrum.
I love fireworks as much as the next guy does. They have become part of the American tradition while celebrating our independence. If families are going to use them, it is best for parents to do the lighting and handling of the fireworks. For those with teenagers, a simple talk about the possible dangers may help prevent a lifelong injury. In the end, I think the best way to see the rocket’s red glare and bombs bursting in air is to go to one of the many professional fireworks shows in your area. Have a safe Fourth of July.
Dr. Harold Pine is a pediatric otolaryngologist at UTMB.