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Fireworks are dangerous in the wrong hands

June 27, 2014

How many times have you seen young children covering their ears at public fireworks displays celebrating the patriotic Fourth of July holiday?

The very sight begs the question: "Should I bring my newborn or young child to the fireworks for fear it might harm their ears or scare them?"

Scary but not damaging

"While the decibels are great as fireworks explode in the night skies, the noise level shouldn’t be enough to damage your baby’s hearing. The best thing is to be as far away as possible from where the fireworks are actually being launched. And, if parents think that the sound is too loud, it probably is too loud for their child as well," said Dr. Jerry Schreibstein of Ear, Nose &Throat Surgeons of Western New England and a member of the Baystate Medical Center medical staff.

But, the loud noise and even the flashes as the colorful explosives light the sky can be scary for some children.

"Young children may find the loud noise of fireworks more frightening than exciting. This, combined with a disrupted sleep schedule from staying up late to watch the fireworks display, may lead to some cranky behaviors the next day," said Dr. Patrick Brown, a pediatrician in the division of Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

In addition, Dr. Brown noted some children with special needs, such as Williams Syndrome or Autistic Spectrum Disorder, can be especially bothered by loud noises and might be overwhelmed by fireworks.

"If you know that your child is sensitive to loud noises, consider allowing them to muffle the sound or watch the fireworks from a distance to make the noise and bright lights less intense. It may also be helpful to talk to them about what to expect at a fireworks display, and even show examples on the computer where they can better manage the intensity of the experience before viewing the real thing," he said.

Leave it to the Pros

As for the general safety of fireworks, when you’re playing with fire, and in this case, explosive gunpowder, there are bound to be injuries. That’s why fireworks are illegal in many states, including Massachusetts, serving as a reminder as the Fourth of July approaches to leave fireworks in the hands of properly-trained professionals.

"Those who illegally attempt to capture the excitement of Fourth of July community fireworks displays in their own backyard are risking serious injuries, especially to children," said Mandi Summers, co-coordinator, Safe Kids of Western Mass., headquartered at Baystate Children’s Hospital.

"Fireworks are extremely dangerous, especially in the hands of youngsters or even adults who are not professionally trained in their use. Fireworks involve explosions, accelerants and projectiles, and they can result in serious burns and other devastating injuries, lifelong disabilities, and even death. What is so upsetting is that all of this is completely preventable," added Dr. Ronald Gross, chief, Trauma, Acute Care Surgery and Surgical Critical Care at Baystate Medical Center.

According to a study of fireworks conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in 2012 there were an estimated 8,700 injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments. Sixty percent of those fireworks-related injuries occurred in a one-month period between June 22, 2012 and July 22, 2012.

Dr. Gross noted that traumatic amputation of the fingers or hands is a common result of a fireworks-related injury. Other injuries usually involve the eyes or head and can sometimes result in blinding or even death. More than half of fireworks-related injuries involve burns, which can be one of the most painful injuries a child can encounter.

Handling accidents

If a fireworks accident happens, get medical attention immediately, regardless of the severity of the injury.

  • Do not rub or rinse out the eyes which can cause further damage.
  • Pressure should be applied to control bleeding, but should be avoided on the area around the eye.
  • Do not use any kind of aspirin or ibuprofen, which can cause blood thinning and potentially increase any bleeding that is present.
  • Using ointments and medications are not recommended, as they can make the area around the eye slippery and interfere with the doctor’s examination.