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Preventing injuries — and protecting seniors — during fireworks celebrations

While the Fourth of July is synonymous with fireworks displays, it’s important to remember that fireworks can be dangerous if not handled properly.

Stacie Bobeck, MSN, RN, trauma educator and outreach/injury prevention coordinator with Beacon Health System, talks about the types of fireworks-related injuries that come into our emergency room and offers important safety advice – with a special look at keeping seniors safe — to ensure celebrations remain joyful and injury-free.

The dangers of home fireworks

While fireworks are beautiful, they can cause serious harm. Our emergency departments see numerous injuries each summer, ranging from minor burns to life-altering accidents, Bobeck says. There’s always a significant spike of injuries around the Fourth of July holiday.

“These aren’t just minor incidents,” she says. “We’re talking about severe burns, eye injuries, and even traumatic amputations of fingers or hands.”

Nationwide, the numbers are even more alarming. Every year thousands of people, many of them children and teenagers, end up in emergency rooms due to fireworks accidents. Children under 15 years of age account for a significant portion of these cases, Bobeck says, often due to inadequate supervision or the misconception that certain fireworks, like sparklers, are safe for young hands.

“In our emergency departments, we commonly see burns to the hands, face, and eyes,” Bobeck says. “But what many people don’t realize is that fireworks can also cause serious eye injuries, including corneal abrasions, retinal detachment, and even blindness. We’ve also treated patients for hearing loss due to the loud explosions.”

Perhaps most distressing are the severe injuries that can have lifelong impacts.

“We’ve had cases where individuals have lost fingers or suffered disfiguring burns,” Bobeck says. “These types of injuries can affect a person’s ability to work, perform daily tasks, and enjoy life as they did before.”

Given these risks, Bobeck strongly recommends attending professional fireworks shows instead of setting off your own.

“Leave it to the experts,” she says. “They have the training and safety measures in place to put on a spectacular show without putting you at risk. The injuries we see are almost always from backyard or informal fireworks use, not from professional displays. The best kind of celebration is one where everyone goes home safe at the end of the night.”

Keeping seniors safe

While fireworks can be enjoyable for all ages, our older loved ones may face unique challenges and risks. Bobeck says to consider taking extra precautions for seniors around professional or other fireworks displays.

“As we age, our reflexes slow down, and our sensory perception may change,” Bobeck says. “This can make seniors more vulnerable to fireworks-related accidents.”

It’s important to ensure seniors are seated far enough from the fireworks area to avoid stray sparks or debris. In addition, making sure they are seated comfortably in a well-lit area will help prevent trips and falls. For those using walkers, wheelchairs, or canes, choose viewing spots on level ground with easy access is important, as is having someone designated to assist them if they need to move around.

Here are some key safety measures to consider:

  • Protect against loud noises: Fireworks can reach up to 150 decibels, which can be startling or even painful for seniors. Consider providing noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs to protect their hearing and reduce anxiety.
  • Be mindful of cognitive impairments: Seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s may become confused or frightened by the noise and lights. Keep a close eye on them, offer reassurance, and be prepared to leave if the experience becomes too overwhelming.
  • Consider medication effects: Some medications can increase sensitivity to light or affect balance. Review any potential concerns with their healthcare provider beforehand.
  • Stay hydrated and comfortable: Outdoor events can lead to dehydration, especially in older adults. Ensure plenty of water is available and the viewing area is at a comfortable temperature.
  • Plan for emergencies: Know the quickest route to medical help and ensure any necessary medications are on hand.

“It’s also important to communicate clearly with seniors about the event,” Bobeck says. “Explain what to expect and establish a signal or word they can use if they need to leave or require assistance.”

First aid for fireworks-related injuries

Despite precautions, accidents can happen. If your family or neighborhood is planning to set off fireworks, Bobeck says it’s important to have a first aid kit ready and know how to respond if an injury occurs.

While professional displays are safest, Bobeck acknowledges that some families may still choose to use consumer fireworks.

“If you decide to use fireworks at home, it’s crucial to understand the risks and take every possible precaution,” she says. “Many people don’t realize that sparklers, often given to children, can reach temperatures over 1,000 degrees. That’s hot enough to melt glass. Imagine what it can do to a child’s skin or eyes.”

Here are some first aid tips:

  • For burns: Immediately run cool (not cold) water over the burn for at least 10 minutes. Do not use ice or butter. Cover the burn with a clean, dry dressing.
  • For eye injuries: Do not rub or rinse the eye. Seek medical attention immediately.
  • For larger wounds: Apply direct pressure with a clean cloth to control bleeding. Do not remove any objects embedded in the wound.
  • For any serious injury: Call 911 immediately.

It’s critical to seek professional medical care for any fireworks-related injury, no matter how minor it may seem.

“Some injuries, particularly to the eyes or hands, can have long-term consequences if not properly treated,” Bobeck says. “In our emergency departments, we’ve seen everything from minor burns to traumatic amputations. Don’t let your celebration turn into a life-altering accident. If you’re using fireworks at home, please, please be careful and follow all safety guidelines.”

 

About Heidi Prescott

Passionate about writing her whole life, Heidi Prescott joined Beacon Health System in 2015 and currently serves as Senior Media Relations Strategist. A former newspaper journalist who has experience in TV, radio, magazines and social media, Heidi loves storytelling, photography and spending time in nature.