Fireworks Eye Safety

The numbers are clear: Fireworks are dangerous and July 4 is an especially risky time for eye injuries.

Fireworks caused 9 deaths and 11,500 injuries in 2021, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's most recent annual fireworks injury report (PDF). Most fireworks injuries happen between mid-June and mid-July.

Fireworks are advertised like toys around the Fourth of July. You may think you know how to handle them safely. But playing with fireworks can blind you or your loved ones, so leave fireworks to the professionals. All users and bystanders should wear eye protection that meets the criteria set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Fireworks Misfires and Malfunctions Can Kill

Most fireworks deaths result from unsafe handling. But even correct use can kill or injure well-meaning and safety-minded people. Fireworks can misfire, discharge in the wrong direction or ignite all at once in a massive, uncontrollable explosion. 

Simple mistakes, like holding a firework at a wrong angle, have killed users and bystanders by shooting the explosive in an unexpected direction. Mortar launch malfunctions killed two people in separate events in 2021. A quick-match fireworks fuse killed and nearly decapitated one man that year.

Regardless of how careful you are, flaws in equipment and explosives are a leading cause of fireworks injuries and deaths — and more people are harmed every year.

Legal Fireworks May Contain Dangerous Parts

Even legally purchased fireworks can have unsafe — even illegal — contents. This can cause fireworks to malfunction and kill or injure people nearby, despite proper handling.

About one-third of the publicly sold fireworks examined by CPSC’s Office of Compliance and Field Operations in 2021 contained dangerously modified fuses, banned chemicals or unsafe levels of explosive materials.

When Fireworks Injure the Eye

The most recent Consumer Product Safety Commission report found that 14% of fireworks injuries were eye injuries. In the most severe cases, fireworks can rupture the globe of the eye, cause chemical and thermal burns, corneal abrasions and retinal detachment — all of which can cause permanent eye damage and vision loss.

Children and young adults are frequent victims. Children age 15 and under accounted for one-third of the total injuries, according to the commission's report. And half of the injuries requiring an emergency room visit were to people age 20 or younger. Firecrackers were the top cause of injury, sending more than 2,000 people to the emergency room.

Even sparklers can be dangerous, as they burn at more than 2,000 degrees Farenheit. Sparklers were responsible for 1,495 of the injuries in the latest report, and a sparkler mishap caused one of the fireworks deaths reported in 2017.

The people injured by fireworks aren't necessarily handling the explosives themselves. In fact, 65% of people injured by fireworks were bystanders, according to another study. The statistics don't lie. Children and people not handling fireworks themselves are in as much danger as the people actually lighting fireworks.

How to Treat a Fireworks Eye Injury

Fireworks-related eye injuries can combine blunt force trauma, heat burns and chemical exposure. An eye injury from fireworks is a medical emergency. Call 911 or seek immediate medical care. In the meantime, follow these guidelines:

  • Do not rub your eyes.
  • Do not rinse your eyes.
  • Do not apply pressure.
  • Do not remove any objects that are stuck in the eye.
  • Do not apply ointments or take any blood-thinning pain medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen unless directed by a doctor.

Sourced from the American Academy of Ophthalmology