Bottle Rockets + Kids = Danger

air-burst fireworks

As if you didn’t know: Kids and bottle rockets are not a smart mix. The rockets can cause serious eye injuries, as a study of emergency room visits shows.

The analysis showed that kids as young as 6 were injured while setting up or lighting a bottle rocket – which is about half the size of a normal firework and is composed of an explosive-filled core, a nose cone that guides the flight of the firework, and a guide stick that stabilizes the rocket before it takes off. (The guide stick is typically stuck in the ground or lodged into a bottle.)

The injuries were caused by being struck by high-velocity components of the rocket itself or debris or shrapnel from the bottle as the rocket exploded. [Video – How Fireworks Work]

"The spectrum of eye injuries ranged from surface scratches and bruising to irreversible damage to structures like the optic nerve and retina," study researcher Dr. Franco M. Recchia, of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told LiveScience.

Most of the patients had reduced vision, and about half showed visual acuity at the level of "legally blind," which is a visual acuity of 20/200 or worse. That means they will have to read large-print books and they won't be able to drive.

(A person with normal 20/20 vision can read letters one-tenth as large as someone with 20/200 vision, or numbers in a telephone book versus letters on a stop sign.)

Bottle rocket incidents

Every year, about 9,200 emergency-department admissions result from fireworks-related injuries, and about 1,400 of these involve the eyes, according to the researchers. A disproportionate number of these are linked to bottle rockets.

To document the phenomenon, Recchia and his colleagues looked at ER records of all patients 18 years or younger seen in the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital for eye injuries between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2009. They found eight boys and two girls who had sustained eye injuries from bottle rockets, some of them just passers-by.

One 17-year-old boy was struck in the eye by a bottle rocket that had been launched by nearby children, and a 5-year-old girl got an eye injury when a bottle rocket exploded nearby. Another girl, 17, sustained her eye injury when bending over to light the bottle rocket. Four individuals were struck in the eye by a bottle rocket they were involved with.

Safe launches

Since kids are likely to remain kids, what's a parent to do?

"Most of these happen within a month of Fourth of July. So I think that public service announcements at key times of the year" would be helpful, Recchia said. And if people do choose to set off a bottle rocket, the researchers said, they should take precautions such as wearing protective eyewear ― or "just leave fireworks to the professionals," Recchia said.

None of the patients in the current study was wearing protective eyewear when he or she got hurt.

The study didn't have uniform documentation on whether parents were around, but another study has shown that in 54 percent of fireworks involving kids there was adult supervision.

"Indeed, adult supervision during fireworks launching may seem advisable, but it is not sufficient to prevent fireworks-related injuries in children," the researchers write online in the journal Archives of Ophthalmology. The study will be detailed in the May print issue of the journal.

While bottle-rocket injuries are not a huge public-health issue, Recchia said the situation is an important one since there are so many indirect and direct consequences that are preventable.

You can follow LiveScience Managing Editor Jeanna Bryner on Twitter @jeannabryner.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.