Fireworks and food are a central part of Americans' celebration of the Fourth of July holiday, but they also can be health hazards without proper precautions.
Experts from UC Davis Health System provide some tips on how to enjoy these traditional holiday pastimes while safeguarding against illness and injuries.
Protection from noise damage
The UC Davis Audiology Clinic encourages the use of ear protection to guard against hearing injuries.
To protect themselves, those celebrating with fireworks should use sound judgment and wear earplugs, said Robert Ivory, an audiologist at the Audiology Clinic.
"The explosion from a single firecracker at close range can cause permanent hearing damage in an instant," Ivory said. "We encourage people to leave the fireworks to the professionals and to use earplugs when attending fireworks celebrations."
Loudness is measured in decibels (dB). Any noise above 85 dB is considered unsafe. Most firecrackers produce sounds starting at 125 dB.
Disposable earplugs, made of foam or silicone, are available at local pharmacies. They allow people to still hear music and conversations around them while adequately blocking out dangerously loud sounds.
The Audiology Clinic encourages people to protect their hearing while participating in other loud summer activities, such as concerts, stock car races, using lawn mowers and other power equipment, shooting practice and power boating. The clinic also urges people to protect their hearing when listening to MP3 players and other electronic devices with earbuds and headphones.
Noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Ten million Americans already have suffered irreversible hearing damage from noise, and 30 million are exposed to dangerous noise levels every day. Children are the most vulnerable.
"Noise-induced hearing loss can be life-changing, but it also is highly preventable," said Ivory.
Regular hearing checks are important for detecting hearing loss early, Ivory said, and for receiving appropriate help to minimize the effect that unaddressed hearing loss can have on one's quality of life.
Numerous studies have linked untreated hearing loss to a wide range of physical and emotional conditions, including impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks, reduced alertness, increased risk of personal safety, irritability, negativism, anger, fatigue, tension, stress, depression, reduced income and diminished psychological and overall health.
Here are some warning signs of hearing damage:
- Pain in the ears after leaving a noisy area
- Ringing or buzzing (tinnitus) in the ears immediately after exposure to noise
- Difficulty understanding speech after exposure to noise (One can hear people talk, but not understand them.)
Fireworks also present a risk of burns, the most common cause of injury during the summer months, and especially in July. Fire and burns are the third-leading cause of unintentional, injury-related deaths among children 14 and under.
In 2011, 65 percent of all fireworks injuries occurred during the 30 days surrounding the Independence Day holiday. About 10,000 people suffer fireworks injuries every year, including 4,000 children ages 14 and under. Burns resulting from improper use of sparklers and illegal fireworks usually involve the hands, face, arms and chest areas.
The best way to protect one's family is not to use fireworks at home. The Firefighters Burn Institute Regional Burn Center at UC Davis Medical Center recommends attending public fireworks displays and leaving the lighting to professionals.
The Burn Center urges people who decide to purchase legal fireworks to take these safety steps:
- Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.
- Do not ever use homemade fireworks of illegal explosives: They can kill you! Report illegal explosives to the fire or police department in your community.
- Use fireworks outdoors only.
- Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks. Parents may not realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees-hot enough to melt some metals.
- Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Have a "designated shooter."
- Spectators should keep a safe distance from the shooter and the shooter should wear safety glasses.
- Always have an adult closely supervise fireworks activities if older children are allowed to handle devices.
- Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.
- Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
- Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
- Never try to relight or handle a "dud" firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak them with water and throw them away.
- Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
- Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
- Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
- After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
Summer picnics and cookouts are a common source of food poisoning. Classic symptoms include stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and flu-like symptoms. Small children, the elderly and pregnant women at a higher risk for foodborne illnesses.
To help prevent microorganisms from proliferating in the picnic basket, Wendi Vela, a registered dietitian at UC Davis Medical Center, offers the following tips to keep foods safe:
- Always start with clean surfaces and clean hands when preparing food.
- Meat, seafood, mayonnaise, eggs, milk and many dairy products have the greatest danger of spoiling. So instead of packing deli-roasted chicken and potato salad, consider packing the basket (or preferably, the cooler) with safer choices.
- Remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Cold foods should be kept in the refrigerator until it is time to leave. For hot foods, time the cooking with departure and transfer it directly from the oven to the car. Eat cold and hot foods within one hour. Packing foods that need cooling, like casseroles or pasta salads, in small containers helps them chill faster, but also enables them to be set out and eaten as they are needed.
- Transport foods to be kept cold in an insulated cooler with ice or ice packs. Figure that about one quarter of the space should be taken up by the ice. A block of ice will last longer than ice chips or cubes. Put the cooler in the air-conditioned car rather than in the hot trunk. At the picnic, keep the cooler in the shade. Use a separate cooler for cold drinks to avoid frequent opening and closing of the one containing perishable items. At the beach, partially bury the coolers in the sand, cover them with towels or blankets and put an umbrella over them for shade.
- When the party's over, perishable food that has been left outside for longer than one hour in hot weather should be thrown away.