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Keep fireworks safety in mind while celebrating the Fourth of July

Gretchen Irwin, M.D., shares some helpful tips for having a safe and fun Independence Day.

People holding sparklers and lighting sparklers

Fireworks are popular during the Fourth of July and have long been a part of many families' celebrations amid the national holiday. But fireworks can also cause burns and injuries, so it's important to keep safety in mind.

Gretchen Irwin, M.D., is chair of the Department of Family & Community Medicine at KU School of Medicine-Wichita and associate dean for Graduate Medical Education.

Dr. Irwin answered a few questions regarding fireworks safety and shared some helpful tips for the public:

What should I do if I get burned by a firework?

If the burn is minor, run cool water on the area for 10 to 15 minutes. Once cool, you can cover the burn, but be careful with anything that may stick to sensitive skin as it could cause a painful secondary injury when you remove the dressing. Over-the-counter pain relievers or aloe vera containing burn gels can also be helpful. The most important thing, though, is to make sure that you are only treating minor burns at home. Anything else requires you to be seen by a physician.

How do I know if the burn is bad enough that I should go to the hospital?

A minor burn is one that is red with perhaps a blister or two and is in a small area. Burns to the face, burns on young or elderly, burns on individuals with other significant medical conditions like diabetes, or burns that cover an extensive area or go deep should be evaluated by a physician. If you are planning to have a burn evaluated by a physician, gently cleanse the area and keep it clean until you can be seen. Seek medical attention immediately and don't put creams on the burn if you are going to be evaluated as you may interfere with the treatment the physicians will want to do.

How can I protect myself when lighting fireworks?

Make sure you are downwind of spectators when lighting fireworks so sparks, smoke, etc. are away from people in the area. Make sure you look at the packaging to know how far away to stand to safely set off fireworks. Never attempt to relight fireworks that have not exploded as expected. Also, we see lots of injuries to children who have been playing with sparklers and often people assume that they are a safe toy. In reality, they get very hot and can burn someone very significantly. Also watch children and how they dispose of sparklers. If they drop them and another child picks up the sparkler, it may still be hot enough to cause a significant burn. Make sure you are also following fire safety precautions with used fireworks.

Do you have any other advice regarding Fourth of July health tips?

Ear protection can be helpful if you know you will be close to an area where fireworks are being lit. Migraines can be triggered by loud noises. If you want to avoid the noise of fireworks, consider using ear protection or staying indoors and distracting yourself with some soothing music or other background sounds.

Additional resources for health and safety during the Fourth of July:


KU School of Medicine-Wichita