Deceptively Dangerous – Avoiding Burn Injuries from Sparklers

June 30, 2015 Brigham and Women's Hospital

Sparklers can burn at up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, potentially causing serious burns.

Last summer, Marissa Keane, a Project Manager in the Marketing Department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), was looking forward to relaxing with friends and family at a July 4th celebration in a nearby state. Instead, her evening ended with second-degree burns and a visit to an urgent care center.

During the celebration, someone standing near Marissa began waving a sparkler. The motion tossed a spark onto Marissa’s 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. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, fireworks-related injuries result in an average of 240 daily visits to the emergency room in the thirty days surrounding the July 4th holiday. Nearly one-third of these injuries are due to sparklers. That’s not surprising when you consider that sparklers can burn at up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fireworks are banned in Massachusetts, though you may be traveling to a state where sparklers and other fireworks are allowed. Dr. Raghu Seethala, Associate Director of Trauma in the Emergency Department at BWH, offers these tips to avoid injuries from sparklers or fireworks:

  • Supervise children. The majority of sparkler injuries occur in children between the ages of five and 14 years.
  • Keep your distance. Stay at least six 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 consume alcohol while you or anyone near you is using sparklers or fireworks.

If you or a family member is burned by a sparkler, how should you care for the burn and when should you seek medical care?

Superficial burns, such as those resembling a sunburn, can be treated at home, says Dr. Seethala. Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, Director of the BWH Burn Center offers this advice for home treatment of superficial burns:

  • Clean the burn daily with mild soap and water, cover with a thick coat of petroleum ointment, and cover with an occlusive (air- and water-tight) dressing.
  • Keep the wound moist, rather than dry, during the healing process. It reduces pain and speeds up the healing process.
  • If the burn is not healed within seven days, consult a burn specialist for an evaluation.

Serious burns, beyond blister, typically present with pain and brown or black discoloration. These types of burns are susceptible to infection. Dr. Pomahac recommends seeking 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. Dr. Pomahac notes that burn specialists can offer more sophisticated dressings and medications that will minimize your pain, prevent infection, and promote healing.

Learn more about fireworks safety:

- Jamie R. 
Previous Article
When Should Blood Pressure Medication be Started?
When Should Blood Pressure Medication be Started?

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is the most common risk factor for heart...

Next Article
Join the 50 Million Faces Campaign
Join the 50 Million Faces Campaign

“Nothing can prepare you for the moment when your mother looks into your...