With the summer months approaching, there are lots of reasons to celebrate, and one of the most popular ways to do so is with fireworks. Before lighting up the night sky, however, it is important to take the right precautions to avoid injuries, especially injuries to the eyes. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s 2022 Fireworks Annual Report, there were more than 10,000 injuries and 11 deaths that year resulting from firework injuries.

Though fireworks may appear small and easy to handle, they can cause significant eye damage and even death if handled incorrectly. New data from Prevent Blindness finds that males accounted for the highest number of fireworks injuries at 65 percent, and 28 percent of firework injuries involved children under the age of 15. The most common injuries were burns to the face and hands.

“Fireworks are dangerous in large part because they are unpredictable,” said Jeff Todd, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness. “Whether it’s firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, or any other device, they can take a different flight path than expected or detonate early.”

 Jeff Todd.
Every year, Prevent Blindness and its network of affiliates work to educate the public on the importance of avoiding all types of fireworks—promotional materials include downloadable fact sheets, social media graphics and a dedicated webpage, Todd said.

He said holidays such as Independence Day are an important day for Americans to commemorate, and Prevent Blindness provides suggestions for alternative activities to celebrate the day, without fireworks.

“Prevent Blindness supports the development and enforcement of bans on the importation, sale, and use of all fireworks, except those used in authorized public displays by licensed operators,” Todd explained. “Rather than use fireworks on their own, we encourage people to see public firework displays put on by licensed operators. However, I do want to emphasize that even spectators at professional displays must remain vigilant as accidents may occur at those events as well.”

Risks to Vision

In addition to explosion and fire, several components inside fireworks can lead to injury, including hazardous chemicals that can burn the eyes, posing risks to both firework handlers and observers alike. A study by Johns Hopkins Medicine points to a high rate of bystander injury, noting that this population represents 65 percent of people injured by fireworks, with mortar-type fireworks and bottle rockets being the most likely items to cause injury. In addition, fireworks eye safety data from the UNC School of Medicine notes that sparklers, which are often seen as harmless for kids, can burn as hot as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The data also warns that dud fireworks can be dangerous to handle and should never be relit.

Injury Treatment

Even when the best precautions are taken, accidents still happen. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) offers several recommendations for the treatment of eye injuries resulting from fireworks.

  • Avoid rubbing the eyes as it can increase bleeding.

  • Don’t rinse the eye as chemicals can react negatively to water.

  • Take the victim to the emergency room right away.

  • Avoid painkillers, which can thin the blood and cause bleeding.

  • Do not apply ointments—this can make the eye harder to examine.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends wearing ANSI-approved safety glasses while handling fireworks. These should have an ANSI Z87.1 marking on the lens or frame.

The organization has released educational resources for eyecare providers that can be shared in the office and on social media, including Fireworks Safety Infographics.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has released a child-friendly YouTube video to help warn people about the dangers of handling fireworks.