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Fireworks and Eye Safety: What You Need to Know

Young girl with a sparkler.

Fireworks injuries cause approximately 10,500 visits to the emergency room each year, according to data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.1 As families and communities make plans for a star-spangled Fourth of July, the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute is joining the American Academy of Ophthalmology in shining a light on fireworks safety.

Injuries from fireworks largely occur in the weeks before and after the Fourth of July. The most recent report showed that about 1,300 eye injuries related to fireworks were treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2014, up from 600 reported in 2012. See more statistics about fireworks and eye safety.

To help prevent these injuries, here are four myths about consumer fireworks risk:

  1. Small doesn’t equal safe. A common culprit of fireworks injuries is the kind often handed to small children — the classic sparkler. Many people mistakenly believe sparklers are harmless due to their size. However, they can reach temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees — hot enough to melt certain metals. Even tiny poppers or snappers can pose dangers.
  2. Even though it looks like a dud, it may not act like one. Injury and serious eye trauma can occur when people mistakenly think that a firework is no longer active or hot. Never touch unexploded fireworks and contact the local fire or police department to properly handle it.
  3. Just because you’re not lighting or throwing it doesn’t mean you’re out of the firing line. An international study of fireworks-related eye injuries showed that nearly half of the people injured by fireworks are bystanders. The research also found that one in six of these injuries caused severe vision loss. Two of the most common culprits of firework related injuries are mortar-type fireworks and bottle rockets, which are thrown before they explode and can strike an innocent bystander.
  4. The holiday can be complete without using consumer fireworks. “Although consumer-grade fireworks are legal in many states, they are extremely dangerous and can cause devastating ocular injuries and even blindness” states Fasika Woreta, M.D., M.P.H., the director of eye trauma at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute. 

From a public health and injury prevention perspective, we need to increase awareness of the potential dangers of fireworks and eliminate the use of consumer fireworks, says Woreta. Please celebrate safely this Fourth of July and leave fireworks to the professionals.

Safety tips from the Academy:

  • Never let children play with any type of firework, including sparklers.
  • People who handle fireworks and all bystanders should wear protective eyewear that meets the parameters set by the American National Standards Institute.
  • When viewing a professional firework display, view fireworks from at least 500 feet away and respect all safety barriers.

If you experience a fireworks-related eye injury:

  • Seek medical attention immediately.
  • Avoid rubbing or rinsing the eyes or applying pressure.
  • Do not remove any object from the eye, apply ointments or take any pain. medication before seeking medical help.

For more information about eye safety, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology at aao.org/eyesmart and the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library eye safety page.

The Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins provides emergency care to patients sustaining eye trauma and has been designated as the only MD eye trauma center by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS). For more information on MIEMSS, visit http://www.miemss.org/home/

All information is for educational purposes only. For medical advice and treatment, please consult your healthcare provider. In the event of a medical emergency, call a doctor or 911 immediately.


1 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission 2014 Fireworks Annual Report
2Ocular firework trauma: a systematic review on incidence, severity, outcome and prevention, British Journal of Ophthalmology, 2010

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