person holding lit sparkler
Summer Health Guide: Article 3 of 6

Tips to Avoid Burn Injuries from Sparklers

Private: Raghu R. Seethala, MD
Contributor Raghu R. Seethala, MD

On the 4th of July, Marissa Keane, a former project manager in the marketing department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was looking forward to relaxing with friends and family at a celebration in a nearby state. Instead, her evening ended with second-degree burns and a visit to an urgent care center.

During the festivities, someone standing near Marissa began waving a sparkler. The motion cast off a spark onto her clothing. Fortunately, Marissa noticed what happened before her blouse completely ignited. Still, she suffered a serious burn on her chest that required medical treatment.

Marissa’s experience is an important reminder about the dangers of sparklers, an iconic symbol of July 4th celebrations. Fireworks-related injuries result in an average of 240 daily visits to emergency departments in the 30 days surrounding the July 4th holiday. Nearly 1 in 3 of these injuries is due to sparklers. That’s not surprising when you consider that sparklers can burn at up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stay safe around sparklers or fireworks

Fireworks are banned in Massachusetts, though you may be traveling to a state where sparklers and fireworks are legal. Dr. Raghu Seethala from the Brigham’s Emergency Department offers these tips to avoid injuries from sparklers or fireworks:

  • Keep your distance. Stay at least 6 feet away from people holding sparklers to avoid injury from sparks.
  • Stand still. Don’t wave or run with sparklers.
  • One is enough. Do not bundle sparklers to enhance their effect.
  • Cover up. Wear closed-toe shoes to avoid injuries from sparks.
  • Take precautions. Always keep a bucket of water nearby when someone is using sparklers or fireworks.
  • Stay alert. Don’t drink alcohol while you or anyone near you is using sparklers or fireworks.
  • Supervise children. The majority of sparkler injuries occur in children between the ages of 5 and 14 years.

How to treat burn injuries at home

Superficial burns, such as those resembling a sunburn, can be treated at home. Use these tips:

  • Clean the burn daily with mild soap and water.
  • Apply a thick coat of petroleum ointment to the burn and cover it with an air- and water-tight dressing.
  • Keep the wound moist, rather than dry, during the healing process. This reduces pain and speeds up the healing process.
  • If the burn doesn’t heal within 7 days, contact a burn specialist.

Seeking medical care for burns

Serious burns typically present with pain and brown or black discoloration. These types of burns are more likely to get infected. Seek medical care immediately for serious burns if they are larger than the palm of your hand, or within 24 to 48 hours for deeper burns covering a smaller area. Burn specialists can dress your burn professionally and prescribe medications that will minimize your pain, prevent infection, and promote healing.

Private: Raghu R. Seethala, MD
Raghu R. Seethala, MD

Raghu R. Seethala, MD, is Associate Director of Trauma in the Brigham and Women’s Emergency Department and Instructor in Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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