How safe are fireworks? Even sparklers can cause serious injuries

June 29, 2018 by Sheerah Coe, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine
Credit: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine

The 4th of July is a time to celebrate, but injuries from fireworks lead to approximately 11,000 visits to the emergency department each year, and over 30 percent of them involve children.1 The majority of disabling injuries occur with illegal firecrackers, but most injuries involve legal fireworks that parents buy for their children, such as sparklers, firecrackers, bottle rockets, and Roman candles.

In 2016, 69 percent of all emergency department-treated injuries related to fireworks were burns. And burns were the most common to all parts of the body, except injuries to the eyes, where cuts and bruises occurred more frequently. To help reduce the number of burn injuries and potentially blinding fireworks accidents this July 4, the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center Burn Prevention Program and UNC Kittner Eye Center are working to share important fireworks safety information.

Here are five fireworks facts they want you to know:

  • Sparklers are NOT safe for young children. Sparklers burn at 1,800 degrees, hot enough to melt some metals. Sparklers are responsible for most of the injuries to children age 5 and younger.1
  • It's not necessarily safer to view consumer fireworks than it is to light or throw them. Bystanders are injured by fireworks as often as fireworks operators. 
  • Consumer fireworks are not always safe. Sparklers and firecrackers each account for 1,400 injuries to the eyes annually. The parts of the body most often injured were hands and fingers (an estimated 33 percent); head, face, and ears (an estimated 20 percent); legs (an estimated 18 percent); eyes (an estimated 9 percent); and arms (an estimated 8 percent).1
  • It is not safe to pick up a firework after it has been lit. Even though it looks like a dud, it may not act like one.
  • The Fourth of July can still be a "blast" without using consumer fireworks. The safest way to view fireworks is to watch a professional show. UNC Health Care has been a sponsor of the Chapel Hill fireworks display at Kenan Stadium since 2012.
Credit: American Academy of Ophthalmology

If you experience a fireworks injury related to a burn, the Jaycee Burn Center urges you to treat the burn immediately by doing the following:

  • Remove all clothing, jewelry, or anything that can hold in heat off the body. 
  • Cool the burn approximately 3-5 minutes with cool (not cold) water. 
  • Do not use ice, Vitamin E, or other home remedies as these may make the injury worse.
  • If it is a small burn, about the size of a quarter, wash gently with soap and water daily. Then apply a small amount of triple antibiotic ointment (available over the counter at drug stores or supermarkets) to the area and cover with a bandage until healed. 
  • You should seek if the burn is larger than the size of a quarter, is over a joint, or has occurred over parts of the body such as the eyes, ears, hands, or feet. 
  • You should also seek medical attention if the burn has a beefy red appearance and is causing extreme pain, or may have a waxy white appearance of any size with no pain in the burned area.

If you experience a injury to the eye, ophthalmologists urge you to minimize the damage by doing the following:

  • Seek medical attention immediately.
  • Do not rub the eye. Rubbing may make the injury worse.
  • Do not attempt to rinse the eye.
  • Do not apply pressure to the eye.
  • Do not remove objects from the eye.
  • Do not apply ointments or take pain medications before seeking medical help.

Explore further: This Fourth of July, leave fireworks to professionals

Related Stories

This Fourth of July, leave fireworks to professionals

June 30, 2016
Thousands of accidents each year underscore the danger of fireworks. In 2014, 11 people died and an estimated 10,500 were treated in emergency departments for fireworks-related injuries in the U.S. Statistics show the typical ...

The Medical Minute: Fireworks are beautiful but for professionals only

July 2, 2012
Fireworks are meant to be enjoyed, but you'll appreciate them much more this Independence Day and all summer knowing your family is safe. Fireworks can be fun to watch, but they can also be very dangerous. Don’t ever ...

Simple ways to prevent fireworks injuries

July 3, 2013
(HealthDay)—Many Fourth of July fireworks-related injuries could be prevented with some common sense, according to experts who advise people to avoid using fireworks at home—even if they're legal.

Fireworks displays spark safety concerns

June 30, 2013
(HealthDay)—Fireworks add sparkle to Independence Day festivities but they need to be handled with care—and by adults, a prominent group of U.S. surgeons says.

Handle fireworks with care on the fourth

July 1, 2016
(HealthDay)—Americans love fireworks, especially on the Fourth of July, but experts warn they can be dangerous if not used safely.

Have a fun—but safe—fourth of July

July 1, 2014
(HealthDay)—Your hands, fingers, head and eyes are at greatest risk for injury if you set off fireworks at home, a doctor warns.

Recommended for you

Emotional abuse may be linked with menopause misery

November 19, 2018
Smoking, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle have long been linked to heightened symptoms of menopause. Now, a study headed by UC San Francisco has identified another factor that may add to menopause torment: an emotionally ...

How AI could help veterinarians code their notes

November 19, 2018
A team led by scientists at the School of Medicine has developed an algorithm that can read the typed-out notes from veterinarians and predict specific diseases that the animal may have.

Bullying and violence at work increases the risk of cardiovascular disease

November 19, 2018
People who are bullied at work or experience violence at work are at higher risk of heart and brain blood vessel problems, including heart attacks and stroke, according to the largest prospective study to investigate the ...

A low-gluten, high-fiber diet may be healthier than gluten-free

November 16, 2018
When healthy people eat a low-gluten and fibre-rich diet compared with a high-gluten diet, they experience less intestinal discomfort including less bloating. Researchers at University of Copenhagen show that this is due ...

Youth dating violence shaped by parents' conflict-handling views, study finds

November 16, 2018
Parents who talk to their children about nonviolent ways of resolving conflict may reduce children's likelihood of physically or psychologically abusing their dating partners later—even when parents give contradictory messages ...

Why we shouldn't like coffee, but we do

November 15, 2018
Why do we like the bitter taste of coffee? Bitterness evolved as a natural warning system to protect the body from harmful substances. By evolutionary logic, we should want to spit it out.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.