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Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
July 2, 2008 — Fireworks-related eye injuries are a big reason why the Fourth of July holds the distinction of being America's most dangerous holiday. But eye injuries in the home occur every day of the year, and most can be avoided, experts say.
A new study shows that nearly half of the 2.5 million eye injuries that occur annually in the U.S. happen in and around the home, and 90% of these injuries could be prevented if more people used protective eyewear.
In an effort to prevent and raise awareness about home-related eye injuries, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the American Society of Ocular Trauma (ASOT) on Wednesday called on all Americans to have at least one pair of protective eyewear in the home and to use the eyewear often.
"As families gather to celebrate the Fourth they are probably aware of the risk to their eyes from fireworks and from the sports they may engage in," San Francisco ophthalmologist and AAO spokesman Andrew Iwach, MD, tells WebMD. "But only a small percentage of eye injuries occur on the Fourth of July."
Thousands of people suffer eye injuries in and around the home each year while performing everyday tasks like mowing the lawn and frying bacon.
"Slipping on a pair of safety glasses is quick and easy," ASOT President Ferenc Kuhn, MD, PhD, says in a news statement. "Unfortunately, compared to other commonsense safety steps such as wearing seatbelts, using protective eyewear does not happen frequently enough."
Hurt on the Fourth of July
Although eye injuries occur every day, the Fourth of July presents a special risk for people who include illegal and even legal fireworks in their celebrations.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that after injury to the hands, eye injury is the most common reason for fireworks-related hospital ER visits.
Nearly 10,000 Americans were treated in emergency rooms last year for fireworks injuries, and 64% of these injuries occurred on or around July 4, according to the CPSC.
Experts warn that even the most benign fireworks pose a risk, especially to young children.
Many injuries to children are caused by sparklers, which burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees — hot enough to melt some metals.
Half of all eye injuries from fireworks occur in children, and as many as one in four of these injuries result in permanent vision loss.
"No one should go from a backyard celebration to the emergency room with firework-related injuries," CPSC acting chairman Nancy Nord says in a news statement. "Using only legal fireworks and using them correctly is an important step toward celebrating safely."
Some CPSC tips for safe celebration include:
- Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.
- Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.
- Avoid fireworks that come in plain brown paper packages. This is a sign that they were made for professional use and could pose a risk to non-professionals.
- Never have any portion of your body directly over fireworks when lighting the fuse.
- Never try to re-light or pickup fireworks that don't go off.
- Never point or throw fireworks at others.
- Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
- Keep a bucket of water or garden hose handy.
Dangers in the Home
Bungee cords, frying pans, and lawn and household chemicals are just a few of the everyday items responsible for eye injuries within the home.
A survey released Wednesday by AAO/ASOT showed that most people underestimate their at-home risks.
Most survey respondents perceive eye disease to be a more significant threat to their vision than injury, but each year, 50,000 Americans permanently lose all or part of their vision because of injury.
One-fourth of eye injuries occur in children and teens, and half of injuries occurred in people between the ages of 18 and 45. Nearly half of eye injuries (44%) happen in the home, and 15% of injuries occur in the workplace.
Though two-thirds of survey respondents said they owned protective eyewear, 30% of these people said they did not consistently use the eyewear when doing home repairs or projects.
Eyewear that has a certification seal from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is appropriate for home use, Iwach says. ANSI certified goggles or glasses cost just a few dollars and can be purchased at any hardware store.
Regular glasses or sunglasses could be more dangerous than no eyewear at all because they could shatter on impact, he says.
"Protective eyewear could prevent most home eye injuries, but you have to have the eyewear in the home to use them," Iwach says.
SOURCES: News release, American Academy of Ophthalmology/American Society of Ocular Trauma. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: "Fireworks Continue to be Dangerous Part of Fourth of July Festivities," June 25, 2008. AAO Eye Injury Snapshot 2008. Andrew Iwach, MD, executive director, Glaucoma Center of San Francisco; spokesman, American Academy of Ophthalmology. Ferenc Kuhn, MD, PhD, president, American Society of Ocular Trauma. Nancy A. Nord, acting chairman, Consumer Products Safety Commission.
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