Fireworks and Kids: Trauma Surgeon Shares Tips on How to Have Fun and Safe Summer Celebrations

Talk to your kids on how to handle sparklers safely and supervise their use.

Fireworks and sparklers are synonymous with the Fourth of July, just like hot dogs and hometown parades. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 8,500 people in the United States are treated in emergency departments each year for fireworks-related injuries: Approximately 40% of those injured are children under the age of 14, and males are injured three times more often than females.

“The most common thing we see in the emergency room during the Fourth of July are burns,” says Stephanie Chao, MD, pediatric surgeon and trauma medical director at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Pediatric Surgery at Stanford Medicine.

Of all fireworks-related injuries, according to CDC data, seven out of every 100 people injured by fireworks are hospitalized. Most commonly, injuries from fireworks affect the hands, face, and eyes. Dr. Chao says that close supervision is the key to keeping kids safe, especially when handling sparklers.

“The little sparklers are quite hot and can get up to 2,000 degrees, which is enough to burn gold,” she explains.

If a spark does pop into a child’s eye, the first thing to do is not to panic. It will only frighten the child more. “Stay calm and make sure your child does not rub their eye,” says Dr. Chao. “Cut the bottom off a paper cup and use it to cover their eye. Then, quickly but safely, bring them to the emergency room.”

Not to spoil anyone’s holiday fun, she adds that if you have older children who you feel are responsible enough to use a sparkler, remind them in advance of potential dangers and supervise their use.

To have a fun and safe celebration, the American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends the following:

  • View and enjoy fireworks from a safe distance, at least 500 feet away from the fireworks launch site.
  • Wave a flag or a glow stick instead of a sparkler.
  • Do not pick up unexploded or “dud” fireworks that fall to the ground, as they may still go off.
  • Protect your child’s hearing. Fireworks and firecrackers can be as loud as 150 decibels, which is a lot louder than what’s considered a maximum safe listening level (75–80 decibels).

“Headphones and earplugs are always a good safety option,” says Dr. Chao. “Fireworks can be really loud, and one loud burst is enough to cause some hearing damage.”

For more information about safely enjoying fireworks displays, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

“We want everyone to stay safe this Fourth of July holiday,” says Dr. Chao, “and as long as they incorporate some safety measures, they can have lots of fun, outside of the hospital.”


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