Emergency Rooms Gear Up for Explosion of July 4 Injuries

Doctors say they anticipate a surge in fireworks-related emergencies.

ByABC News
July 2, 2010, 3:14 PM

July 3, 2010— -- WASHINGTON -- As Americans gear up for the Fourth of July barbecues and festivities, the nation's emergency doctors, hand surgeons, and ophthalmologists brace for an influx of patients with fireworks-related injuries.

The Level I trauma center at the University of Kentucky hospital in Lexington is already crowded during summer months from a wide range of trauma injuries, emergency physician Dr. Ryan Stanton told MedPage Today. But fireworks injuries are grow more common as July 4th approaches.

About 9,000 fireworks-related injuries resulted in visits to the emergency department in 2009, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Nearly 6,000 of those occurred during the 30 days surrounding the Fourth of July, said CPSC chairman Inez Tenenbaum on press event on the National Mall.

"These injuries may range from simple burns to loss of fingers, other extremities, and even death," Stanton said.

Fireworks injuries occur most often in the males who are in the "risk-taking" age-group -- ages 15-19, and alcohol use is often a factor, he said. However, small children, or people who stood near as a firework or bottle rocket went wayward are also common firework accident victims, Stanton said.

"So many people are used to the safety of fireworks, we've seen them our entire lives, people think about them as safe," Stanton said. "I think we get a little lackadaisical about them."

People are especially laid-back about sparklers, said three physicians who spoke with MedPage Today.

Children jubilantly waiving sparklers are an omnipresent sight at July 4th celebrations throughout the nation, but they can cause serious burns to the eyes, Stanton said. Not only does the tip of a sparkler heat up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but it contains an alkaline chemical that can eat away at eye tissue.

Nearly half of fireworks injuries are head-related injuries -- 30 percent of which are eye injuries, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. One in four fireworks-caused eye injuries results in permanent vision loss or blindness, according to a press release from the AAO.