Eye Injuries from Fireworks Caused by Shrapnel

The Fourth of July and fireworks go hand in hand. Unfortunately, many people suffer eye injuries while detonating fireworks during the festive holiday. More than 2,000 firework related eye injuries are reported each year, ranging from minor scratches to complete loss of sight. Many of these people make their way into the office of an eye doctor known as an ophthalmologist.

Some scientists believe that these eye injuries are caused by pressure waves from the explosions, while others claim it is exploding shrapnel that causes the eyes to rupture or bleed. However, according to a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (AMA), it is shrapnel and not pressure waves that are causing the rash of injuries.

“This, for the first time, scientifically proves that you have to have the impact from an object such as a bottle rocket to cause serious eye injuries,” said Stefan Duma, who led the new research. “If you remove the projectile, you dramatically reduce the risk.”

For the study, Duma’s team used human eyes from a cadaver eye bank in North Carolina. Instrumentation was placed in the eyes and detonated explosives that mimicked firecrackers at various distances from the eye. The results showed that blast damage to the eye was limited to merely surface scratches at the closest distance, which was about three inches away. High-speed cameras showed these scratches were caused by unspent gunpowder that shot into the eyeball after the blast.

Though imperfect, this study still gives us a better understanding of how these eye injuries occur.

If you have sustained an eye injury after detonating fireworks, please contact our Beverly Hills ophthalmologists at La Peer Health Systems at 855-360-9119.