The Blinding Truth of Fireworks and the Dangers They Pose to Your Eyesight

hand holding a gold sparkler

As families and communities across the country prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks displays, an ophthalmologist from the University of Wisconsin Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences reminds us how to avoid serious eye injury during the festivities.

“Most people don’t see the harm in sparklers, spinners, firecrackers, and bottle rockets, and they learn too late the necessity of wearing eye protection,” said Jennifer Larson MD. “It’s best to leave fireworks to the professionals. But if you choose to celebrate with fireworks, wear safety goggles and take all the necessary precautions to keep you and your family safe.”

The most recent Consumer Product Safety Commission report found that 16% of fireworks injuries were eye injuries. In the most severe cases, fireworks can rupture the globe of the eye, cause chemical and thermal burns, corneal abrasions, and retinal detachment — all of which can cause permanent eye damage and vision loss.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, although the most disabling injuries occur with illegal fireworks, the highest numbers of injuries come from the legal fireworks parents buy for their children—including sparklers, firecrackers, bottle rockets, and Roman candles.

“Sparklers can burn 10 times hotter than boiling water,” Larson said. “It’s important to dispel the myths that put people at risk of blindness.”

  • Myth #1: Consumer fireworks are harmless. Fireworks can cause blinding eye injuries such as chemical and thermal burns, corneal abrasions, or retinal detachment. If you live in a state where consumer fireworks are legal and have plans to use them, wear eye protection.
  • Myth #2: Sparklers are made for kids and aren’t dangerous. Don’t let their small size fool you; sparklers burn at more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot enough to melt certain metals.
  • Myth #3: Duds are harmless. Malfunctioning fireworks should be handled with caution. Do not try to relight faulty fireworks. Instead, soak it in water and throw it away.
  • Myth #4: Only those handling the fireworks are at risk. The majority of firework-related eye injuries happen to bystanders. Watch fireworks from at least 500 feet away and make sure everyone is wearing eye protection.

If an eye injury does occur, seek medical attention right away.

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