This article originally appeared in the June 30, 2008 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Children often find the bright colors and loud noises of fireworks irresistible. But firecrackers, bottle rockets, sparklers, and other fireworks are the type of fun that sometimes carries a heavy price. During 2004 alone, an estimated 9,600 people capped off their personal fireworks displays with a trip to the emergency department, and about 40% of all fireworks-related injuries occurred among kids under 15 years of age.
“A severe burn or eye injury is a tragedy that you would never wish on your child,” says Dr. Steve Laffey, an emergency medicine physician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. “Playing with fireworks seems like fun, and there’s nothing wrong with letting your children have fun. But you do have to be mindful of just how dangerous these things can be.”
The best thing you can do to protect your child is not to use any fireworks at home. Attend public fireworks displays, and leave the lighting to the professionals.
Lighting fireworks at home isn't even legal in many areas. If you still want to use them, be sure to check with your local police department first. If they're legal where you live, keep these safety tips in mind:
• Children should never play with fireworks. Things like firecrackers, rockets, and sparklers are just too dangerous. If you give your child a sparkler, make sure your child keeps it outside and away from the face, clothing, and hair. Sparklers can reach 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (982 degrees Celsius) - hot enough to melt gold and to cause serious, deep burns to the skin.
• Buy only legal fireworks (legal fireworks have a label with the manufacturer's name and directions; illegal ones are unlabeled), and store them in a cool, dry place. Illegal fireworks usually go by the names M-80, M100, Blockbuster, or Cherry Bomb. These explosives were banned in 1966, but still account for many fireworks injuries.
• Never try to make your own fireworks.
• Always use fireworks outside and have a bucket of water and a hose nearby in case of accidents.
• Steer clear of others - fireworks have been known to backfire or shoot off in the wrong direction. Never throw or point fireworks at someone, even in jest.
• Don't hold fireworks in your hand or have any part of your body over them while lighting. Wear some sort of eye protection, and avoid carrying fireworks in your pocket - the friction could set them off.
• Point fireworks away from homes, and keep away from brush and leaves and flammable substances. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that local fire departments respond to more 50,000 fires caused by fireworks each year.
• Light one firework at a time (not in glass or metal containers), and never relight a dud.
• Store unused fireworks in a covered container to ensure that a stray spark does not set them all off at once.
• Don't allow your child to pick up pieces of fireworks after an event. Some may still be ignited and can explode at any time.
• Soak all fireworks in a bucket of water before throwing them in the trash can.
• Think about your pet. Animals have sensitive ears and can be extremely frightened or stressed on the Fourth of July. Keep your pet indoors to reduce the risk that the pet will run loose or get injured.
• If your child is injured by fireworks, immediately go to a doctor or hospital. If an eye injury occurs, don't allow your child to touch or rub it, as this may cause even more damage. Also, don't flush the eye out with water or attempt to put any ointment on it. Instead, cut out the bottom of a paper cup, place it around the eye, and immediately seek medical attention - your child's eyesight may depend on it.
• In case of a burn injury, remove clothing from the burned area and run cool, not cold, water over the burn (do not use ice). Call your child's doctor immediately.
• For more information on safe fireworks, visit www.fireworksafety.com.
In a recent study based on data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), researchers estimate that children were treated for 85,800 fireworks-related injuries from 1990 through 2003. Although half of these occurred among fireworks users, more than 19,000 bystanders sustained injuries to the face and eyes.
The researchers from Columbus Children's Hospital and Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, examined fireworks-related injuries that occurred in children and teens 18 years and younger.
They found that firecrackers caused nearly 30% of all fireworks injuries, sparklers and novelty devices counted for about 21% of injuries, and aerial devices caused nearly 18%. In nearly 15% of the sparkler injuries, a child was burned by stepping on a discarded sparkler, not surprising because sparklers burn at intensely high temperatures. Burns accounted for 60% of all fireworks injuries, and the most common body parts injured were the eyes, face, and hands.
To play it safe, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other national safety organizations recommend that parents not use fireworks at home and attend professional pyrotechnics displays in public venues instead. The fireworks are bigger, and professional displays greatly reduce the risk that you or your child will be hurt.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.