Independence Day offers an opportunity for celebration, family gatherings, picnics, outdoor recreation and, of course, fireworks.
Planning ahead can help keep those activities safe for everyone, says Dr. Nathan Larsen, an Emergency Medicine Physician at ThedaCare Medical Center-New London and -Waupaca.
“It’s a great time for families and friends to enjoy the summer together,” Dr. Larsen says. “Unfortunately, we also see several injuries and heat-related illnesses every year. You can avoid these with proper precautions.”
While fireworks are a fun and traditional part of July 4 celebrations nationwide, home fireworks-related incidents cause thousands of injuries — and some deaths — every year.
The. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that in 2021, around 11,500 children and adults nationwide sustained fireworks injuries that required emergency care. About 32% of fireworks-related injuries in 2021 were burns.
“Leaving fireworks to the experts is the best plan,” Dr. Larsen says. “Even sparklers can be dangerous. They can burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit — hot enough to melt some metals.”
In addition to burns, people can suffer eye and facial injuries, as well as hand fractures and lacerations.
People can also experience hearing loss. Fireworks explosions can exceed 150 decibels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If you do choose to light fireworks at home, stick to legal fireworks and follow safety guidelines for their use,” Dr. Larsen says.
Fires and Grilling
About 70% of adults in the U.S. own a grill or a smoker, according to the National Fire Protection Association. That means many people will be using them over the July 4 holiday to make tasty meals for family and friends. That also means an added risk of burns.
July is the peak month for grill fires. Around 22,000 people each year receive emergency care for grill-related injuries — about half from contact burns.
“Nearly half of those contact burn injuries are seen in children under age 5, with many bumping or touching hot grills, or even falling into the grill or hot coals,” Dr. Larsen says. “Always keep children away from the grill area.”
Observe proper safety protocols for your grill, and operate it away from structures. Grills of all types cause thousands of house fires annually.
If your holidays plans include swimming or boating, follow safety steps.
“Number one, alcohol and boating should never mix,” Dr. Larsen says. “And make sure to have a life jacket onboard for everyone on the vessel. That includes canoes and kayaks.”
Drinking and swimming also isn’t safe. The potential for collisions and falls into the water increase with alcohol use. Alcohol reduces inhibition, meaning some swimmers may engage in risky behavior such as swimming out farther than normal, Dr. Larsen says.
“Designate a person in your group to be a ‘water watcher’ to keep an eye on swimmers,” he says. “Pools pose a particular drowning danger to young children.”
Older children and teens are more likely to drown in natural waterways, including ponds, lakes and rivers. It’s important to observe safety even with more experienced swimmers.
When enjoying outdoor activities, always wear sunscreen, and consider wearing protective clothing such as hats and lightweight shirts with SPF-protective fabric. Sunburn can occur in as little as 15 minutes, according to the CDC.
Additionally, heat exhaustion and heatstroke can happen quickly, Dr. Larsen says. Heat exhaustion symptoms can include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, cold and clammy skin, tiredness or weakness, nausea, and headaches.
Heatstroke symptoms include skin that’s red, hot and dry, without sweating; rapid pulse, throbbing headache and upset stomach; and dizziness, confusion, irritability or loss of consciousness. Untreated heatstroke can lead to organ damage.
“Anyone who suspects someone is experiencing heatstroke should call 911 right away,” Dr. Larsen says. “Don’t give the person anything to drink, but you can move the person to a cooler place. Try to lower their temperature with cool, damp cloths or ice packs.”
Dehydration can lead to heat illnesses, so ensure you and your loved ones stay hydrated.
“Always drink enough water,” Dr. Larsen says. “If you’re thirsty, it’s likely that you’re already becoming dehydrated.”
July 4 is about fun and celebration. Taking precautions can help ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday for everyone.