Guest Opinion: The eye opening truth of firework injuries


Dr. George Meers

Summer is a great time to be in Tacoma. In many people’s minds, the unofficial kickoff to summer is the Tacoma Freedom Fair with its main attraction, the Stan Naccarato Memorial Fireworks Extravaganza, scheduled for 10:10 p.m. on July 4th. Not to mention the Friday Fireworks shows from Cheney stadium during the summer.

On the other hand, in Tacoma, fireworks of any kind subject violators to a $257 fine from the Tacoma Fire Department. The reason is simple: Fireworks pose a risk to people and property.

In 2017, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that fireworks caused just under 13,000 injuries for the whole year. Nearly 8,500 of these injuries took place between mid June and mid July. Furthermore 14 percent of those injuries were eye injuries. Eye injuries from fireworks arise for a number of reasons. A 2012 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that most eye injuries are caused by burns and scratches on the front surface of the eye from unspent explosive material. Sulfur, ash, gunpowder and other elements that make up fireworks are all eye irritants. The force from larger explosions causes a concussive force strong enough to detach the retina (the delicate tissue that lines the inside of the eye and helps us see). In other cases, the force of the blast and speed of the material projected into someone’s eyes is strong enough to create the eye to rupture.

Using fireworks we think of as “safe,” like sparklers and firecrackers, is just asking for an accident. Sparklers burn at close to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and 1,200 of the injuries reported in 2017 were from sparklers. The most eye opening statistics reported by the Consumer Product Safety Commission: Half of the emergency room visits in 2017 involved our youth aged 20 and younger, and 65 percent of persons suffering injuries were bystanders. Children and observers are more likely to be hurt from fireworks. Accidents can happen in milliseconds, faster than it takes for our eyes to blink but the effects will last a lifetime. Even the smallest spark is enough to cause permanent eye injury.


When attending fireworks shows:

  • Respect posted safety barriers.
  • View fireworks from a safe distance (300-500 feet).

If you are in a location that allows use of consumer fireworks:

  • Store and use fireworks per manufacturer recommendations.
  • Keep water and fire extinguishers nearby.
  • Be sure bystanders are out of range before lighting fireworks.
  • Do not have any portion of your body over a firework when you are lighting it.
  • Do not light fireworks in a glass or metal containers.
  • Be sure to use fireworks in a area clear of leaves, trash, or other flammable materials.
  • Keep unused fireworks away from the area you are lighting them.
  • Do not try to relight malfunctioned or ‘dud’ fireworks.
  • Do not allow running with fireworks or aiming fireworks at one another.
  • Do not let young children play with fireworks, even sparklers can be dangerous.
  • Wear eye protection! Research has shown only 1 in 10 persons actually wear protective polycarbonate eyewear when using backyard fireworks.

What to do when a fireworks injury occurs:

  • Call 911 or get to your emergency room immediately.
  • Do not rub your eyes; that can make it worse.
  • Do not rinse eyes.
  • Do not apply pressure to the eye.
  • Do not remove any objects embedded in the eye. This can be similar to removing a nail from a tire.
  • Avoid any use of ointment or pain relievers with blood thinning properties (aspirin, ibuprofen) unless directed to use these meds by the ER staff.

Dr. Meers is owner/optometrist at Tacoma Eye in Tacoma. Tacoma Eye is your complete neighborhood optometrist, giving eye exams to children and adults. Tacoma eye provides non-surgical treatment of eye disease and specialty contact lens services. Find out more at



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