ST. LOUIS – Fireworks are a beloved Fourth of July tradition, but celebrations can go from fun to frightening in a matter of moments when injuries are involved. While sparklers, bottle rockets and cherry bombs may bring back childhood memories, they are among the leading causes of eye injuries, according to Gil Grand, MD, a Washington University ophthalmologist with Barnes-Jewish Hospital and The Retina Institute.
“Fireworks that are perceived as child-friendly give a false sense of security,” says Dr. Grand. “Sparklers burn at about 1,200 degrees, and that’s hot enough to melt some metals. A single spark can cause permanent damage to the eye and can even lead to blindness.”
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, approximately 2,000 people injure their eyes with fireworks or explosives each year and one in every six fireworks-related eye injuries results in permanent vision loss or blindness.
“Eye injuries can be devastating,” says Dr. Grand. “People have a moment of fun and end up paying the price for the rest of their lives.”
Devices like sparklers and bottle rockets are legal in many places. Dr. Grand recommends that if people are going to use legal fireworks, they should always take safety precautions.
“Safety goggles are the easiest way to protect the eyes,” Dr. Grand says. “Fireworks can injure the eyes in two ways: from sparks off the firework itself or shrapnel from explosions hitting the eyes or eyelids. Goggles can help reduce both of those risks.”
However, Dr. Grand points out goggles only protect the people wearing them. Bystanders are still at risk from misfires, unplanned ignitions and shrapnel created by explosions. “The safest thing is to leave all fireworks to the professionals,” Dr. Grand says.
Barnes-Jewish Hospital is a 1,315 bed teaching hospital affiliated with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo. The hospital has a 1,763 member medical staff, with many recognized as "Best Doctors in America." Barnes-Jewish is a member of BJC HealthCare, which provides a full range of health care services through its 13 hospitals and more than 100 health care sites in Missouri and Illinois. Barnes-Jewish Hospital is also consistently ranked as one of America’s “Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.