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Exploding fireworks may cause injury to eyes if person nearby

July 03, 2012|By Jon Bardin, Los Angeles Times / For the Science Now blog
  • Debris from fireworks can cause eye damage.
Debris from fireworks can cause eye damage. (Robert Gauthier )

When you light the fuse on those fireworks this Fourth of July, you might want to wear goggles: A new study reveals that exploding fireworks can send unspent explosive material and debris straight into the eyes of those standing nearby.

Thousands of people around the U.S. head to the emergency room every summer with fireworks-related injuries, and many of those injuries are to the eyes. But because fireworks send out potentially harmful waves of pressure when they explode, it was unknown whether those pressure waves were the cause of injuries, or whether small particles from the fireworks were causing the damage by physically striking the eye.

Researchers at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest took on the patriotic duty of testing which hypothesis was correct. The scientists acquired eyeballs removed from recently deceased people from the North Carolina Eye Bank, and pressurized the eyes until the conditions resembled those in the human face. They then blew up a series of fireworks called “Bunker Buster,” “Dixie Dynamite” and “Little Dynamite” at increasingly close range to the eyeballs, recording the whole thing with high-speed video to confirm their findings, which were published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Assn.

The researchers found no evidence that an increase in pressure from the explosions was causing injury. But the camera did capture firework material being sent straight into the eye, slightly damaging the cornea.

The moral of the study? If you plan to set off explosives in your backyard, make sure your eyes are covered.

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