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Don’t let sparklers take sparkle from your eyes

Don’t let sparklers take the sparkle from your eyes

The Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind (RNZFB) is warning Kiwis that while traditional Guy Fawkes sparklers are fun to use and pretty to look at, they are dangerous and can lead to injury, especially when used by children.

Chris Inglis, RNZFB Blindness Awareness and Prevention Divisional Manager, says it is important to know exactly how a sparkler is made and what it is, in order to understand why something that appears so harmless can lead to injury.

"Sparklers are essentially a cocktail of chemicals," says Ms Inglis.

"They have in them aluminium, iron, steel, zinc, magnesium and other chemicals, which get mixed together with water and combustible ingredients to form a slurry that can be coated on a wire to dry," she says. "When lit, the metal flakes heat up to temperatures as high as 700 degrees Celsius, spraying sparks of molten metal as they burn."

Ms Inglis says that apart from the obvious heat involved in flying sparks, the iron in sparklers is of particular concern, as particles entering the eye can rust and cause irreversible damage to vision if not removed by an eye professional immediately.

Overseas statistics from the American Academy of Paediatrics indicate that of all fireworks related injuries since 1994, up to 20% were caused by sparklers, the majority of injuries being to the eyes and hands of children under the age of five.

These statistics also show that in total about 20% of all fireworks related injuries are to the eyes. About a third of these result in permanent damage to vision.

This year, the New Zealand Fire Service and the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind are recommending that New Zealanders enjoy Guy Fawkes by attending organised community displays.

"The Foundation really wants to ensure that everyone will be able to enjoy the splendour and excitement of fireworks for years to come," says Ms Inglis. "It’s just not worth losing your sight because of fireworks on one night of the year."

Both the RNZFB and the New Zealand Fire Service do, however, recognise that attending public displays is not possible for everyone, so in this situation there are ways you can ensure that your Guy Fawkes celebrations are as safe as possible.

Tips for Guy Fawkes at home:

Ensure your eyes are protected with safety glasses or goggles.

Stand your fireworks in dirt or sand, or on a firm flat surface.

Have only one person in the area where the fireworks are being lit.

Light one firework at a time.

Light you fireworks at arm's length. Keep your body back and reach out to light a fuse. Never light fireworks in you hand.

Keep clear of fireworks that have been lit but have not gone off. Don’t try to re-light a dead firework.

Keep family and friends at least 15 metres away from where the fireworks are being lit.

Never point or throw fireworks at people.

Don’t take chances with your under-five’s eyesight by handing them a sparkler.

If an accident does occur, what can you do right away to minimise the damage to the eye?

Do not delay medical attention even for seemingly mild injuries. "Mildly" damaged areas can worsen and end in serious vision loss, even blindness, that might not have happened if treatment had occurred immediately.

Do not rub the eye. If any eye tissue is torn, rubbing might push out the eye’s contents and cause more damage. Trying to rub the eye is an automatic response to pain, but pressure will only do more harm.

Do not attempt to rinse out the eye. This can be even more damaging than rubbing.

Shield the eye from pressure. Tape or secure the bottom of a foam cup, milk carton or similar shield against the bones surrounding the eye: brow, cheek and bridge of the nose.

Do not give aspirin or non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain. They thin the blood and might increase bleeding.

Do not apply ointment or any medication. It is probably not sterile. Also, ointments make the eye area slippery. This could slow the doctor’s examination at a time when every second counts.

For further information on fireworks safety, consult the New Zealand Fire Service fireworks page at:

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