Fireworks are a central part of celebrating the Fourth of July. They also can cause serious burn, orthopaedic and hearing injuries if used without proper precautions.
Experts from UC Davis Health offer these tips on how to enjoy this traditional holiday pastime while avoiding trips to the emergency room.
Fireworks present increased risks of burn and blast injuries, mostly to the hands. Orthopaedic surgeon Christopher Bayne, who specializes in repairing hands, wrists and arms, says that he sees more patients whenever fireworks are easily available.
“It is OK to think of fireworks as part of your holiday celebration, but keep in mind that they are also significant threats, especially to the upper extremities,” Bayne said. “They can cause blast and burn injuries similar to what bombs do in war zones.”
The best protection is not to use fireworks at home at all but to attend public fireworks displays and leave the lighting to professionals. If you do use fireworks, use extreme caution. Here are helpful tips from the Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center at UC Davis Medical Center.
General safety tips
- Buy only state fire marshal-approved (safe and sane) fireworks. They must have the state fire marshal’s seal and can only be purchased at licensed fireworks stands.
- Do not ever use homemade fireworks of illegal explosives: They can harm and even kill you. Report illegal explosives to the fire or police department in your community.
- Use fireworks outdoors only and never near dry vegetation or other flammable materials.
- Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks, including sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees — hot enough to melt some metals.
- Keep in mind that parents are liable for damage or injuries their children cause with fireworks.
- Alcohol and fireworks do not mix.
- The person lighting fireworks should wear safety glasses, and spectators should keep a safe distance from him/her.
- Never place any part of your body directly over a firework when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
- Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
- After fireworks are finished burning, douse them with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding them to prevent trash fires.
- Never try to relight or handle "dud" fireworks. Wait 20 minutes, and then soak them with water and throw them away.
- Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
- Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
First aid for minor burns
- STOP, DROP and ROLL or smother flames with a blanket.
- Cool the burn with cool (not ice cold) water for five minutes or until the pain subsides.
First aid for major burns
- Call 911 for emergency medical help.
- Don’t remove burned clothing.
- Don’t immerse large severe burns in cold water.
- Check for signs of breathing and movement; if none, begin CPR.
- Elevate the burned body part or parts; if possible, raise above heart level.
- Cover the person with a dry blanket as the victim is likely going into shock.
First aid for blast injuries
All blast injuries should be immediately treated by medical professionals. Call 911 for emergency transportation to the nearest emergency room.
Preventing hearing loss from fireworks
Hearing loss is another common injury around the Fourth of July. Any noise above 85 decibels is considered unsafe, and most firecrackers produce sounds starting at 125 decibels. Noise is a common cause of hearing loss, and children are the most vulnerable.
“The explosion from a single firecracker at close range can lead to permanent hearing damage in an instant,” said Robert Ivory, director of audiology at UC Davis Health. “Noise-induced hearing loss can be life-changing, but it is highly preventable.”
Ivory recommends using disposable foam or silicone earplugs while watching fireworks. The earplugs are available at local pharmacies and allow people to hear music and conversations while blocking dangerously loud sounds. Regular hearing checks are also important to detect hearing loss early and help minimize its effects on quality of life.
Warning signs of hearing damage
- Ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in the ears immediately after exposure to noise.
- Difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise (one can hear people talk, but not understand them).
If either of these symptoms persists for more than 24 hours, contact your primary care provider for an appointment and, potentially, a referral to a hearing specialist.