Beware the rockets’ red glare: Leave fireworks to the experts

Ophthalmologists at the UAB Callahan Eye Hospital say fireworks are best left to the professionals.

The best way to enjoy fireworks this Fourth of July is to leave them to the professionals, said Doug Witherspoon, M.D., director of the Ocular Trauma Center at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Callahan Eye Hospital.

fireworks_safety_s"It is best to avoid using fireworks at home,” Witherspoon said. “They are dangerous and unpredictable. You are far better off attending a professional fireworks show than attempting to use them at home.”

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. Bottle rockets are the worst offenders, according to Witherspoon.

If you must use fireworks yourself, Witherspoon recommends following these safety procedures to avoid injury, burns or blindness:

  • Always have an adult present.
  • Never use bottle rockets.
  • 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 manufacturers’ 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 with or modify fireworks.
  • Never attempt to make your own fireworks.

Each year nearly 2,200 people are treated for eye trauma at the Callahan Eye Hospital, the nation’s first Level I ocular trauma center as designated by the American Society of Ocular Trauma. It remains Alabama’s only ocular trauma center and the state’s only eye hospital. The hospital’s emergency department is open seven day a week, 24 hours a day, to provide emergency eye care services.

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