Horrific Fireworks Accidents Are Becoming More Common, ER Physicians Warn

July 01, 2022
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In 2020, the latest year of fireworks statistics available from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the nation saw a large increase in fireworks accidents and people being hurt and killed by fireworks.

At least 18 people died from fireworks-related incidents in 2020 compared to 12 reported from the previous year. Also, about 15,600 people were treated in hospital emergency departments for fireworks injuries in 2020. There were about 10,000 ED-treated fireworks injuries in 2019.

“As an emergency medicine physician, I am well aware of the devastating injuries – serious burns, blinding, even the amputation of fingers or an entire hand – that can result when illegal fireworks find their way into the hands of youngsters, or even adults who are not professionally trained in their use or not careful. Some of these horrific injuries can result in lifelong disabilities and even death. What can be especially troubling to me is adults who put fireworks into the hands of children and do not carefully monitor them. Accidents can occur and these types of events are completely preventable,” says Dr. Gerald Beltran, Division of Pre-Hospital Disaster Medicine, Emergency and Trauma Center, Baystate Medical Center.

Private Fireworks are Illegal in Massachusetts

Dr. Beltran notes that the nation saw a large increase in people being hurt and killed by fireworks in 2020 because many municipalities cancelled July 4th public fireworks displays during the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have spurred consumers to use fireworks on their own.

Fireworks are illegal to sell and use privately in Massachusetts (the only state to enforce full bans on consumer fireworks), declaring all types of fireworks illegal including: firecrackers, bottle rockets and sky rockets, aerial repeaters, also known as cakes, single-shot aerials and reloadable aerial tubes, sparklers, party poppers, and snakes.

Fireworks Accident Do’s and Don’ts

If a fireworks accident occurs, Dr. Beltran suggests seeking medical attention immediately, regardless of the severity of the injury.

If an injury occurs which causes bleeding, apply pressure to control the bleeding – except in the area around the eye.

If one or both eyes are injured, do not rub them as this can cause further damage. Do not use any kind of aspirin or ibuprofen, which can cause blood thinning and potentially increase any bleeding that is present. Experts do not recommend using ointments and medications, as they can make the area around the eye slippery and interfere with the doctor’s examination.

Too Loud for Tender Ears?

Another concern surrounding fireworks is “all the loud noise.”

Some parents may question whether to bring their children, especially infants, to patriotic celebrations that include booming fireworks with their bright flashes of colorful explosives in the sky.

“The noise levels aren’t a major worry and should cause no harm to a little ones’ ears, especially if you are far enough away from where they are being launched,” said Dr. Jerry Schreibstein of Ear, Nose &Throat Surgeons of Western New England, who is a member of the Baystate Medical Center medical staff.

Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds everyone:

  • To protect your hearing, be sure to enjoy fireworks from a safe distance.
  • Make hearing protection a family affair. Everyone should wear earplugs or earmuffs to protect their ears at a fireworks show.

However, being close to certain types of fireworks, especially large ones, does have the potential to cause injury to the eardrum. If you notice any pain, discomfort, ringing, or buzzing in your ear, talk to your doctor.

Special Needs Children

While the noise levels may be acceptable for some, they can still be scary for younger children, especially those with special needs such as Williams syndrome or autism spectrum disorder, who can be especially bothered by loud noises and might be overwhelmed by fireworks.

Dr. Beltran and hospital safety experts remind everyone that the best and safest way to enjoy the Fourth of July holiday is to watch a patriotic parade in your town, plan a picnic, or attend a sanctioned community event where professionals are allowed to handle the fireworks and ensure fireworks safety.

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