“Ooooooooooooh! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

It’s our instinctive reaction when Fourth of July fireworks splash across the night-time sky with a dazzling array of colors. But, each year, the cries of thousands of people, including children and teenagers, turn to pain when they are seriously hurt using consumer fireworks.

“Fireworks are beautiful to watch and a fun annual ritual, but people don’t realize how dangerous they can be,” explains Peter Graves, MD, chief of the Department of Emergency Medicine and a member of the academic faculty in the Emergency Medicine Residency Program at Kent Hospital. “We see many fireworks-related injuries each year and most can be easily avoided.”

There are rarely any injuries resulting from professional fireworks displays because they are run by trained people who take appropriate safety precautions, including keeping a safe perimeter around the explosives. These days, fireworks are for sale in many locations. These commercially available fireworks, according to the National Fire Protection Association, cause 90% of fireworks injuries in the emergency room.

“Fireworks are not particularly safe, but they are safer when used correctly and carefully. The problems come in when people buy their own fireworks and fail to read the safety material or follow the instructions carefully,” Dr. Graves says. “Then, there are also the people who are drinking alcohol during festivities involving fireworks, which can negatively affect their judgment and lead to injury.”

These injuries range from the relatively minor first-degree burns to the more severe, eye injuries or blast injuries, depending on the type of fireworks. Even sparklers should not be considered harmless, especially with small children. The tip of a sparkler burns at more than 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to melt glass and cause third-degree burns.

“Sparklers can cause burns, particularly in young children who may not be aware that touching the end can be harmful,” Dr. Graves notes. “The sparks that come from the end can also cause burns or eye injuries.”

If someone suffers a first-degree burn, which is like a mild sunburn, you can treat it with over-the-counter pain medication (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, etc.) or topical burn creams. Burns that are more severe should be treated by a medical professional. Any burns to the face, eyes or airway, or any that encircle the fingers should also be treated in an emergency room.

Dr. Graves offers the following tips for enjoying fireworks safely:

  • Leave the displays to the professionals!
  • If you must buy and use fireworks, be sure to follow all directions and safety precautions.
  • Never let children use fireworks of any kind.
  • Do not make your own fireworks.
  • Do not pick up fireworks that may be left over because they may still be active. Do not try to relight malfunctioning fireworks. Soak them in water and throw them away.
  • Only ignite fireworks outdoors in cleared areas away from houses, buildings, dry leaves and flammable materials.
  • Keep water handy for emergencies.
  • Light only one firework at a time.
  • Do not throw fireworks at another person.
  • Do not shoot fireworks in a metal or glass container.
  • Wear eye protection.
  • Keep pets indoors so they don’t run loose or get injured.

If there is a serious injury, Kent’s Emergency Department is always open with minimal wait.