Fourth of July. The holiday brings up thoughts of hot dogs and hamburgers, ice cream and apple pie, and, of course, fireworks. Fireworks are colorful, bright, and a special part of a summer evening celebration. But they can also be dangerous if they are not used the right way and with caution. The idea of shooting off fireworks originates in China where they were invented, as far back as the seventh century. Recorded history shows that they were used to accompany many festivities in China such as the change of seasons and the New Year. Today, China remains one of the main manufacturers of fireworks.

We probably all know that fireworks produce loud sounds, color, and explosions. To do this, the fireworks themselves are explosive pyrotechnic devices. They shoot into the air or blow up on the ground. Most Fourth of July celebrations include both types.

While they can be beautiful and at times, awe-inspiring, the fact that they are explosive in nature also means that you need to use the proper care when setting them off and viewing them at home.

To give this some perspective, I'll share a few numbers from the U. S.

Consumer Productions Division. In 2010, they recorded a total of 8,600 fireworks-related injuries in the United States. More than 6,300 people went to the hospital for their injuries and there were three recorded fireworks-related deaths. Even sparklers, which seem pretty harmless, can burn at temperatures up to 2,000 degrees F and they accounted for 1,200 injuries that year.


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So, enjoy your fireworks, but use these safety tips from the Consumer Products Safety Commission to help keep you and your friends and family safe this holiday: First, make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them. Some states prohibit the use of fireworks by individuals.

Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities and never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.

You should light fireworks one at a time and never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device while lighting the fuse. Once lit, quickly back up to a safe distance.

Do not point or throw fireworks at another person. If the firework doesn't light up correctly, never try to re-light the firework or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.

Douse it first with water, as you should keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case a fire starts. Also be sure to douse any firework with water before throwing it away, even if it looks like it has fully burned out.

This year, keep safety in mind and everyone can enjoy the oohs and ahs of fireworks without the ouch.

Daniel Perregaux, MD, is a board-certified emergency physician at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and member of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians. He also is Medical Advisor for Vermont EMS District 12. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.