Leave fireworks to the professionals, say UAB eye docs

Grab a blanket and go watch a professional fireworks show this Fourth of July, say UAB ophthalmologists, and skip home fireworks.

You can put an eye out with one of those. Fireworks, that is. From bottle rockets to M-80’s to sparklers, lighting off fireworks is a really good way of sustaining an eye injury.

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According to the Birmingham-based United States Eye Injury Registry, there are an estimated 12,000 fireworks-related injuries treated in U. S. hospital emergency departments annually. As many as 400 Americans suffer permanent vision loss in one or both eyes as a result of injuries caused by fireworks each year.

“Let the professionals put on a show for you, rather than trying to light your own fireworks,” says Doug Witherspoon, M.D., director of the Ocular Trauma Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Callahan Eye Hospital. “Fireworks are dangerous and can be unpredictable. Attending a professional show is a better option than home fireworks.”

The Callahan Eye Hospital became the nation’s first Level 1 Ocular Trauma Center in 2011, as designated by the American Society of Ocular Trauma. But, as Witherspoon points out, it’s not where you want to spend your holiday weekend. If you must use fireworks yourself, Witherspoon says to follow these safety procedures to avoid injury, burns or blindness.

  • Always have an adult present
  • Never use bottle rockets (by far the worst offenders, says Witherspoon)
  • Never allow young children to play with fireworks, even sparklers. Sparklers can reach 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt gold
  • Never try to re-light fireworks that did not explode or ignite the first time
  • Keep a bucket of water or fire extinguisher present in case of fire
  • Light fireworks on a clean, flat surface away from the house or flammable materials
  • Read and follow all manufacturer’s warnings and instructions
  • If there are no instructions or product labels, the item may have been made illegally and could be unsafe; illegal fireworks, which are made without the quality-control standards of legal products, are extremely unpredictable
  • In the event of eye injury, do not touch, rub or press on the injured eye; seek immediate care from an ophthalmologist or hospital emergency room
  • Only light one item at a time
  • Never throw fireworks at another person
  • Never carry fireworks in your pocket
  • Never shoot fireworks from metal or glass containers
  • Never experiment, modify or attempt to make your own fireworks

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