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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (Dec. 29, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---As New Year's Eve rapidly approaches, and the corresponding festivities increase, a local optometrist is warning residents about the dangers associated with something many parents routinely overlook -- fireworks.

"We've already seen one child with a severe eye injury this holiday season," said Dr. David G. Hardt of the Seventh Day Adventist Clinic. "It's heartbreaking because it is so unnecessary."

There are statistics to back this claim. In 1996, during the weeks surrounding the Fourth of July, Dr. Hardt says more than 7,600 people in the U.S. were injured using fireworks; 44 percent of those injured by fireworks each year are children ages 19 and under.

"I'm concerned because we're hearing more fireworks each night here on Saipan," said Dr. Hardt. "A common sparkler can reach 1,800° F - hot enough to melt gold -- and cause third degree burns. Parents should never let their children play with fireworks. It's that simple. They are just too dangerous."

Because some parents have their kids watch the use of fireworks from a "safe" distance, they may think they have nothing to worry about. But that's not the case, said Dr. Hardt.

"Surprisingly, only 60 percent of fireworks injuries are due to misuse," he noted. "The other 40 percent happen in spite of precautions. Although having kids watch from a safe distance seems a good idea in principle, statistics show that bystanders are injured more often than fireworks users."

If an accident does occur to the eye, Dr. Hardt offered the following recommendations:

• Do not delay medical attention, even for seemingly mild injuries. "Mild" damage can worsen and result in serious vision loss, even blindness, which might not have happened if treatment were sought immediately.

• Stay calm, don't panic; and keep the victim as calm as possible.

• Don't rub the eye. If any eye tissue is torn, rubbing may 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 additional harm. Take the victim's hand from his or her face.

• Do not attempt to rinse the eye. This can do more damage 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.

• Avoid giving aspirin or ibuprofen in attempts to reduce pain. These thin the blood and may increase bleeding. Unfortunately, nonprescription painkillers will be of little help. It's better to by-pass the medicine cabinet and get to the emergency room.

• Do not apply ointment or any other medication. It is probably not sterile.

Dr. Hardt is a graduate of the University of California at Berkley and has been living and working on Saipan for seven years. Before moving to the CNMI, he was a full-time faculty member at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. He is a member Of the California Optometric Association and a 17-year member of the American Optometric Association.


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