TUESDAY, July 3, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Sparklers seem innocent enough, as delighted children twirl them about, creating light trails in the warm summer darkness.
But in truth, they are extremely dangerous.
Sparklers burn at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit and shoot off sparks. In the month surrounding the Fourth of July 2005, they accounted for almost half the injuries to children younger than 5 years of age, and proved as dangerous as bottle rockets, according to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.
"Many people don't even think of those as fireworks, but they cause as many injuries as things like bottle rockets," said Dr. Sandra S. Block, a professor with the Illinois College of Optometry and a member of the Pediatric Advisory Committee of Prevent Blindness America.
As the Fourth of July approaches, doctors and medical experts are stepping up their warnings about fireworks.
"There is no such thing as safe fireworks," said Sarah Hecker, spokeswoman for Prevent Blindness America. "You see places that sell 'safe and sane fireworks,' but even the safest ones can cause injury. These things are just dangerous."
Experts have suggested for years that parents find safe alternatives for their children. But statistics show that few heed the warnings.
Fireworks caused an estimated 10,800 injuries to be treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2005, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That was up 1,200 from 2004, when the commission estimated there were 9,600 injuries. And the number of injuries has been rising steadily since 1996.
"Every time you talk to someone who's been injured, you hear the same thing -- 'I've been using bottle rockets for years without a problem,' " Hecker said.
The threat of injury intensifies during the month surrounding the Fourth of July, when fireworks are more available. An estimated 6,500 fireworks-related injuries were treated in emergency rooms between June 18 and July 18 in 2005.
"Around the Fourth, there's a real push to get fireworks out in people's hands," Block said. "This is dangerous and should not be done in the backyard."
During that one-month period in 2005, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission:
- Children under 15 accounted for 45 percent of the injuries. When the age was raised to children and young adults under 20, they accounted for 55 percent of all injuries.
- Firecrackers were to blame for the greatest number of injuries -- 1,700. Rockets and sparklers were next -- 1,100 injuries each.
- The body parts most often injured were the hands, with about 2,000 injuries; the eyes, 1,600 injuries; and the head, face and ear -- 1,300 injuries.
- More than half of the injuries were burns. In fact, burns were the most common injury to all parts of the body except the eyes, where cuts and contusions were the norm.
Children love the glitz and flash of fireworks, but there are safer alternatives, doctors said.
"There are so many ways you can celebrate the Fourth that are safer than fireworks," Hecker said.
For example, Block recommends replacing sparklers with glow sticks, glow necklaces or novelty flashlights. "Pick something that's safe versus something that's dangerous," she said.
If you live in the right areas of the country, you can enlist kids' help in catching nature's alternative to fireworks -- a jarful of fireflies, Block said.
And the loud bang of fireworks can be replaced with burst balloons or paper bags, or with safe novelty noisemakers from a party store. Parents with an added dose of patience can also let their kids bang pots and pans from the kitchen, or let them run loose with horns, whistles, bells and cymbals, the experts suggested.
A Fourth of July party for kids can include a number of fun and safe activities, according to Prevent Blindness America. These include:
- Letting little ones make decorations with crepe paper, construction paper, stickers and glue.
- Planning food-making activities like patriotic pizzas and desserts.
- Getting the kids to decorate T-shirts or hats with paint and decals that glow in the dark. By the time nightfall rolls around, their new night-bright clothes will be dry and ready to model.
Finally, there's no substitute for the real thing, so head to a professional fireworks display. "Take the family as a group to observe it, and let the licensed professionals handle the show," Block said.
And be sure to warn your children about attending neighbors' displays, where most injuries occur to bystanders.
For more on fireworks safety, visit the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.