'Home fireworks are the highest risk for children': Why experts warn against sparklers

"Would you give your child anything with fire on it to play with normally? No!"

Child in a American-flag-themed T-shirt holds a burning sparkler.
They're a Fourth of July tradition for many, but experts warn that sparklers aren't safe for kids. (Getty Images)

The Fourth of July has an obvious association with fireworks, and it can seem like they're everywhere around the holiday — at the local park, on the beach and even getting fired off in the neighbor's driveway. While most adults have probably been around fireworks in some capacity for most of their lives, it's understandable to look at them a little differently once they become parents. Is it actually safe to have a child around fireworks?

About 9,700 people were treated in ERs for fireworks injuries in 2023, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and at least eight of them died. Children between the ages of 15 and 19 have the highest rate of fireworks-related ER visits, followed by kids ages 5 to 9. It's worth noting that 66% of fireworks injuries happened in the weeks before and after the July Fourth holiday.

There's always some risk about being around fireworks, but certain situations are considered safer than others, Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. So what is and isn't OK when it comes to children and fireworks? And what about sparklers? Doctors break it down.

Doctors are wary of private fireworks displays. "Home fireworks are the highest risk for children," Dr. Sage Myers, attending physician in the emergency department at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, tells Yahoo Life. In fact, Dr. Antonio Caceres, a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, says that it's a good idea to "leave any area immediately where untrained amateurs are using fireworks."

Fisher recommends that parents be aware of their surroundings with home fireworks displays and, again, make sure that their children are at least 500 feet away from where they are being set off.

But Myers says home fireworks should really be avoided. "At home, you never really know the direction the firework will go off," she says. "Unlighted fireworks can also sometimes go off later." Children should also never handle fireworks, she says. "In the ER, that's what we worry about the most," she adds.

As for sparklers, Fisher urges caution. "Would you give your child anything with fire on it to play with normally? No!" she says. "They can backfire on you, can spit out little sparks that can light things on fire, kids can touch them and get a burn ... they're really unsafe, especially for little kids."

If parents have older children who they feel are responsible enough to use a sparkler, Fisher recommends that counseling them in advance about the potential dangers of sparklers and supervising their use. "You should tell them to keep their arm extended and to stay six feet away from anybody else's space. If they have long hair, pull it back," Myers says. "They should also have closed-toed shoes on."

But Fisher suggests steering clear of sparklers to be safe and recommends substituting glow sticks. "They're much safer," she says.

Fireworks displays often go off late at night after the bedtimes of many small children. Given that the Fourth of July is on a Tuesday, people can expect fireworks through the weekend and into early next week.

Fisher points out that some late-night noise is inevitable during the holiday weekend and holiday itself. However, she suggests trying things like using a white noise machine in a child's room to try to drown out the popping sounds. "Don't forget about pets — dogs can get really freaked out and bark," Fisher says. If a pet tends to be nervous around loud noises, she suggests turning on the TV or music to help drown out the sound.

In general, experts say that a public display is the safest option for watching fireworks — as long as families keep certain safety precautions in mind.

"You just need to make sure that you're watching behind where they set up safety boundaries and have identified them ahead of time," Myers says. "Keep your kids supervised."

If a barrier isn't set up, Fisher recommends keeping children at least 500 feet away from where the fireworks will be set off. "You want to make sure they're at a safe distance for watching, as well as being prepared for sparks and noise. Fireworks can be really loud," Fisher says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns that fireworks and firecrackers can get as loud as 150 decibels, which is much louder than what's considered a safe listening level (75 to 80 decibels). "Headphones and ear plugs are always a good safety option, even if you think you're a solid distance away," Fisher says. "Fireworks can be really loud, and you don't know how kids will react. There is nothing about fireworks that you have to hear."

If situated 500 feet or more away from where fireworks are being launched, families should be fine in terms of air quality, Fisher says, although she points out that people may at least smell smoke depending on which direction the wind is blowing.

As for a potential risk of shells falling and burning, Myers says that shouldn't be an issue if families are far enough back from the launch area. If anyone happens to come across fireworks remnants, though, it's best to avoid them. "They can be incredibly hot when they hit the ground and can cause burns to the skin," she says.

Overall, experts say that if families take the right precautions, they should be able to enjoy fireworks displays this holiday. "It's possible to enjoy fireworks safely on the Fourth of July," Fisher says. "You just need to be safe about it."

This article was originally published on June 28, 2023, and has been updated.