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Fireworks are advertised like toys between Memorial Day and July 4th. As a result, emergency rooms treat the highest number of pyrotechnic-related eye trauma cases between mid-June and mid-July. Even the most safety-minded users aren’t aware that via combined force, heat and chemicals, pyrotechnics can cause unexpected explosions when they misfire, discharge in the wrong direction, or go off prematurely.

To emphasize the extreme caution that should be taken around fireworks over the prime outdoors season, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recognizes June as Fireworks Eye Safety Awareness Month. The AAO lists precautions and safe practice tips for all who mark the rites of summer enjoying consumer fireworks at home or at big events.  

1) Mishandling and misuse are the most common causes of eye injuries linked to consumer/at-home fireworks. Pyrotechnic shrapnel can cause blinding eye injuries such as a ruptured globe, corneal abrasions or retinal detachment.  The top safety tip for consumer/at-home fireworks use — wear eye protection! Keeping sports/outdoors or workshop protective eyewear at home greatly reduces the odds of ocular trauma from direct hit pyrotechnics. The advisory issued to those who play sports involving projectiles extends to individuals who are within close range of fireworks — use protective eyewear. Safety goggles can be purchased at the UNC Optical Shop (984-974-2039) at UNC Kittner Eye Center.

2) Youth lack the judgment of adults and can be prone to impulsively playing with dangerous consumer goods. Only older children should be permitted to use fireworks under close adult supervision. Parents should speak to teens and younger children about the dangers of fireworks, stress extreme caution in using them, and emphasize the dire consequences when pyrotechnics malfunction, explode in close range or are misdirected at others.

3) Most firework-related eye injuries affect bystanders. When celebrating at gatherings with fireworks, those surrounding the lighting and blast should stand at least 500 feet away. Bystanders should wear protective eyewear along with those lighting consumer fireworks to entertain at group gatherings.

4) The charm of “harmless” sparklers can fool in terms of safety related to this small, handheld firework. Sparklers burn at more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and are commonly put in children’s hands on July 4th and other outdoors celebrations. Families are advised to skip lighting sparklers held by children and to plan for other ways to enjoy the occasion together.

Bottomline: What is the best way to enjoy the brilliant display of fireworks over summer? Skip using them at home and leave it to the professionals. Pyrotechnicians are trained to be responsible for the safe storage, handling, and functioning of fireworks in facilitating large-scale displays at public events. When attending an event with pyrotechnics, remember to respect safety barriers, follow all safety instructions and view the fireworks from at least 500 feet away.