A Deepavali blast with firecrackers? Hema Vijay tells us how to play it safe

Not just burns and cuts, firecracker accidents can also cause permanent loss of vision to those playing with them, and to bystanders too. That’s sounding a note of caution, as Deepavali celebrations begin…

Karthik was walking through the streets on Deepavali eve last year, when a piece from a burning firecracker flew into his eye and got lodged in his eyeball. It took complicated surgery to restore his vision. Meanwhile, young Lalitha, who was watching her brother burst crackers about six feet away, sustained burns when chemicals from a burning firecracker got stuck on the rim of her eyelids.

Unfortunately, this happy festival turns out to be a tragedy for some. “Every Deepavali, we treat 8-10 people who lose their vision because of firecracker injuries,” says Dr. Vikas Khetan, retina specialist, Sankara Nethralaya. “It makes me wonder why people persist in celebrating a festival in this risky fashion,” he says.

Pooling firecrackers

In many countries, firecrackers are pooled and handled by professionals, with the entire community coming together to watch and enjoy the spectacle. “Rockets flying into people's faces, crackers exploding at close range, flowerpots that burst like bombs because they were improperly made… these are some of the scary possibilities,” observes Dr. Anand Parthasarathy, chief surgeon, Vasan Eye Care Hospitals. While there is awareness about the pollution caused by firecrackers, many still do not realise that when we burst firecrackers, we literally play with fire.

On analysis of patients with firecracker injuries who came to their centres during and after Deepavali, last year, Vasan Eye Care found there was a pattern: Children below the age of 15 accounted for 45 per cent of injuries; 89 per cent of all those injured were males; and 50 per cent of all the injuries were sustained by bystanders. The majority were caused by flowerpots, bombs and rockets. And next to hands and fingers, eye injuries were most common. As for eye injuries, burns were the most common, followed by surface or deep injuries, cuts, and lodging of foreign bodies.

With firecracker injuries, there is heat, chemical and speed impact, all of which have a cumulative impact. When a firecracker is burst, there is massive heating up of the chemicals in it. When hot splinters or chemicals from these crackers fly out at high speed, they can penetrate the eye or other parts of the body. Even without the heat, the chemicals in firecrackers are extremely dangerous, as they include charcoal, nitrates and metal chlorates.

First aid

“In case of a bleeding eye injury, put sterile gauze loosely over it and rush to a specialist. If there are only superficial particles in the eye, hold the eyelids open and gently wash the eye with water for about 15 minutes till the particles come out, and then put antibiotic eye drops, if available. If a particle seems large or is stuck in the eye, do not attempt to remove it. Keep the eye closed and consult a specialist immediately,” advises Dr. Parthasarathy. Keeping the affected eye closed is more comfortable. Never rub it.

In case of burns on the skin, rinse the area with cool water without scrubbing it. “Keep the area immersed in cool running water for 10 minutes (not ice water). Thereafter gently pat the area dry and apply a soothing antiseptic lotion or cream (such as Silverex cream) and keep the area open. If the burn is not minor, administer minimal first aid and rush to the nearest hospital,” advises Dr. Sunita Maithreya, general physician.

All Vasan Eye Care Centres will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Deepavali day (ph: 044 43400000). The emergency wing of Sankara Nethralaya on College Road will function round the clock on Deepavali day (ph: 044 28271616).

SOME PRECAUTIONS

* Don’t let children burst crackers without adult supervision.

* Stay a little away and extend your hand to light a cracker. Let no part of the body hover above a cracker.

* Wear shatter-proof protective glasses.

* Wear comfortable cotton clothes, but they should not flow around you.

* Use long bathis for lighting crackers, and long sparklers for flowerpots and the like. After lighting them, quickly move at least 10 feet away.

* Burst crackers outdoors only, preferably in an open space, away from buildings, cars and inflammable materials.

* Keep a bucket of water within reach.

* Pour water on fireworks that do not ignite and drop them into a separate bucket of water. Never attempt to re-ignite them.

* Place fireworks on solid, level ground.

* Do not ignite fireworks within containers

* Never burst rockets or bombs holding them in the hand.

* Rockets should be burst in bottles and directed vertically upwards.

*Sun-dry crackers to ensure they burst properly.

* Keep a water hose and fire extinguisher handy, if possible.