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Between Memorial Day and July 4th, fireworks are a celebratory marker of a memorable backyard BBQ or block party. When consumer pyrotechnics used irresponsibly at a homegrown summer holiday celebration cause serious bodily injuries, an irreversible, blinding incident can commonly be the unfortunate occurrence. According to the most recent U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission fireworks injury report, 11 people died and more than 10,200 were seriously injured in 2022 in the U.S. alone. Even the most safety-minded do not recognize that the combination of force, heat and chemicals places anyone within range at risk for serious eye injuries when pyrotechnics unexpectedly explode, misfire, discharge in the wrong direction, or go off prematurely.

As emergency rooms across the U.S. treat their highest number of pyrotechnic-related eye trauma cases from late May through the week of July 4th, UNC Ophthalmology joins the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) in sending a clear message: Fireworks are dangerous.  Associate Professor and Oculofacial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery subspecialist Daniel Rubinstein, MD, treats periocular and facial trauma cases triaged at UNC Medical Center’s ER. For the most severe cases caused by careless fireworks use, Dr. Rubinstein’s expertise addresses such ocular trauma as ruptured globes, chemical and thermal burns, corneal abrasions and retinal detachment.

Dr. Rubinstein noted: “While fireworks are an exciting way to celebrate the season, they are also a common cause of significant eye and facial injuries.  The launch, blast, and falling debris can all be dangerous. It is critical to always use properly rated eye and ear protection, stay alert, keep a safe distance, and follow the manufacturer’s recommended measures to make the spectacle as safe as possible.”

To emphasize the extreme caution that should be taken around fireworks, the AAO lists precautions and safe practice tips to guide adults and children who directly handle and/or observe consumer fireworks at home or watch pyrotechnics during summertime or year-round celebratory occasions.

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!

Wearing sporting/outdoors or workshop protective eyewear 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.

2) Youth lack the judgment of adults and can be prone to impulsive behavior that is a dangerous mix with using fireworks at home. Under close adult supervision, only older children should be permitted to use fireworks. 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 located nowhere near the pyrotechnics. 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 the fireworks 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? — 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 barriers, follow all safety instructions and view the fireworks from at least 500 feet away. To purchase safety goggles for enjoying fireworks when observing pyrotechnics this summer, call 984-974-2039 or visit the UNC Optical Shop on the 2nd floor of the UNC Kittner Eye Center.


American Academy of Ophthalmology Video: “The Blinding Truth”
Consumer Fireworks Warnings for Families