Fourth of July Safety Precautions From Medical Experts
In 2020 and 2021, many communities cut back or cancelled their Independence Day celebrations. Public safety experts reported that in the absence of traditional public fireworks displays, more people decided to put on their own amateur shows—and this resulted in an increase in injuries.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, each year thousands of people are injured by consumer fireworks, either by direct contact or in a house fire. “Getting together with family or friends for Independence Day is a time-honored tradition. But it is best to leave fireworks to the professionals,” said Dr. Mark Rosenberg, former president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).
This year, the festivities are back in full swing in many communities, but it is expected that home fireworks will continue to be popular. If you, your family or neighbors are going against Dr. Rosenberg’s advice and are planning to use do-it-yourself fireworks, ACEP experts urge you to follow some safety rules avoid serious burns or other injuries. “There are precautions you can take to limit your risk of illness or injury during the holiday. Smart behavior can make all the difference between a celebration and a medical emergency,” said Dr. Rosenberg.
Here are recommendations for the upcoming Fourth of July holiday:
- Make sure you buy fireworks, sparklers, or other flammable items from reputable, legal sellers.
- Keep a fire extinguisher and a large bucket of water or hose nearby.
- Light one at a time and keep everything flammable away from children. This includes sparklers, which can burn hot enough to melt metal and cause serious burns or injuries.
- Never try to re-light or handle fireworks that malfunction or do not go off.
- Do not ignite fireworks in containers. That could create dangerous shrapnel.
- Avoid horseplay with or near fireworks, torches, candles, or any flammable items; do not point fireworks at people or launch them toward anyone.
- When lighting a firework, do not stand directly over it. Back up immediately after it is lit.
- After use, spray fireworks with water until soaked. Placing dry fireworks in a trash can creates a fire hazard.
In the event of a medical emergency, call 911 right away or go to the nearest emergency room.
Protect your ears, too.
Burns and injuries aren’t the only health hazards associated with fireworks. The American Academy of Audiology reminds us that while aging, heredity and health conditions can cause hearing loss, exposure to loud noise is also a factor. And firecrackers, roman candles, cherry bombs and other fireworks are definitely noisy. “Noise from fireworks can reach up to 155 decibels,” they said. “To put this into perspective, this is louder than a jet plane taking off (150 decibels from 25 meters away) or a jackhammer (approx. 100 decibels). Damage to hearing can come from multiple lifetime exposures as well as a one-time blast.”
The Academy agrees with ACEP that the problem is primarily with backyard fireworks, not professional displays. “Never hold a firework or firecracker, with the intention to throw it before it explodes,” cautions Academy past-president Angela Shoup, Ph.D., who is a professor of Speech, Language and Hearing at the University of Texas at Dallas. “Even if you do throw it in time to avoid injury to your hands and face, if it is anywhere close to you when it explodes, your hearing can be immediately and permanently damaged. The inner ear contains delicate hair cells which do not regrow. Once these are damaged by noise, the result may be permanent hearing loss.”
The Academy warns that if you notice muffled hearing, or ringing, buzzing or hissing noises in the ears for days after exposure to fireworks or other loud noise, report the problem to your health care provider right away.
Of course, preventing hearing noise exposure is the wisest choice! Simply stay away from loud fireworks. Or wear earplugs or other hearing protection. Older adults are at highest risk of hearing damage from loud noise, but this goes for people of every age, including children.
Continue with COVID caution.
ACEP offers one more Independence Day reminder for this year: Take precautions to avoid exposure to COVID. “We are making great progress against COVID with the help of the vaccines, but we’re not out of the woods just yet. Everyone should continue taking steps to keep themselves and their loved ones protected,” said Dr. Rosenberg.
Older adults are at highest risk of contracting the virus, experiencing serious COVID side effects, and of death. Get your vaccines and boosters as recommended. While a face mask is likely not necessary during outdoor events, cover your face if you end up in public indoor spaces. Especially if you will have older guests at your gathering, remind everyone to stay home if they are experiencing a fever, dry cough, fatigue or other symptoms.
By taking a few precautions, we can all enjoy a glorious—and safe—Fourth of July!