Fourth of July is here and its a time for food, fun, family and, of course, fireworks. USC School of Medicine Ophthalmology Professor Dr. Al Pakalnis says the safest way to enjoy fireworks is by letting the professionals handle it. Pakalnis says if you are going to handle fireworks you need to have a healthy respect for the product and the dangers that are involved when they are misused.Pakalnis says he arrived in South Carolina 22 years ago. in his first few years in the state, he would have to surgically remove the eyeball of at least one person a year who’s eye was irreparably damaged usually by a flying bottle rocket or other fireworks accident. Pakalnis worked several years ago with then State Senator Warren Giese in passing legislation restricting the sale of the very small bottle rockets.
“That was the worst offender of all the fireworks, because when that hits your eye its literally like an unguided missile. You have no control over it once it leaves you, and kids unfortunately play without guidance, without adult supervision, and i would see at least a case a year.”
Pakalnis says thankfully do in large measure to the legislation, severe eye injuries due to bottle rockets have become relatively rare.
Pakalnis says young children should never be allowed to handle fireworks. Older youngsters should be allowed to use fireworks only under adult supervision. Pakalnis says who ever is handling fireworks should do so with a healthy respect for its contents.
“It’s gunpowder! That’s what’s in fireworks. it is the same gunpowder that is in a roadside bomb like we find in Iraq. It’s gunpowder, plain and simple. Even the colored arrays and displays in the sky are basically different pigments added to gunpowder so that when it bursts and gives you that flame, the flame gives you a different color.”
Pakalnis says some fireworks can create heat in the range of 2000 degrees Fahrenheit and that kind of heat can cause severe burns to the eyes as well as other parts of the body.
Pakalnis says children left to their own devices can find creative ways to play, however that creativity combined with the unsupervised use of fireworks can have very dangerous consequences.
“They’ll put some firecrackers in a tin can or a glass jar and set it off. What they’ve created is a miniature hand grenade basically, and when that thing goes off if it’s an aluminum can they create shrapnel and that can travel at very high velocities. Even little pieces can get into the eye and damage the eye quite severely.”
Pakalnis says he has seen cases where small children have been burned or suffered eye damage because they were allowed to handle sparklers. Pakalnis stresses that parents should never let their young children handle sparklers.
Pakalnis suggests that persons who shoot fireworks should wear protective goggles. Pakalnis says regular glasses do not provide the proper protection from flying embers.
“In the case of fireworks what you have to have is something that goes completely around the eye so that you can protect your eyes from the little ashes, the flaming embers burning at 1600 degrees that can cause very severe burn damage to the eye and surrounding tissues.”
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, around 12,000 fireworks related injuries happen each year, 2700 involve the eye, and a fourth of those injuries result in permanent vision loss.