SACRAMENTO, CA. - If you feel your eyes burning when you watch fireworks, it might be shrapanel and other explosive material injuring your eyes, a new study stays.
Researchers at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest reported in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association that small debris from fireworks explosions can fly through the air and injure the eye.
Their findings debunk old theories about eye injuries that commonly occur on the 4th of July. Scientists had thought high pressure waves were the cause of eye injury as people watched fireworks from close range.
They studied the eyeballs from recently deceased people from the North Carolina Eye Bank, and pressurized the eyes until the conditions resembled those in the human face.
They then blew up a series of fireworks named "Bunker Buster," "Dixie Dynamite" and "Little Dynamite" at increasingly close range to the eyeballs, recording the effects with high-speed video to confirm their findings.
The researchers found no evidence that an increase in pressure from the explosions was causing injury. But the camera did capture firework material being sent straight into the eye, slightly damaging the cornea.
Thousands of people around the U.S. head to the emergency room every summer with fireworks-related injuries, and many of those injuries are to the eyes. But because fireworks send out potentially harmful waves of pressure when they explode, it was unknown whether those pressure waves were the cause of injuries, or whether small particles from the fireworks were causing the damage by physically striking the eye.