playing with fireworks
Children between the ages of 5 and 14 are most at risk from fireworks. (Photo: iStock)

Instead of “the loud roar of the cannon”, the Mexican national anthem could say “the loud roar of the fireworks” because their explosions are what has been heard for centuries on national and Christmas holidays.

Fireworks are an ancient custom, invented in China, and were brought to America by the peninsular conquerors. They have never been eradicated from festivities in Mexico. This practice is almost always illegal, because they are usually lit and set off without authorization from federal authorities.

“In the event that activities are carried out using pyrotechnic material without the corresponding authorizations, it is a crime violating the Federal Firearms and Explosives Law,” says the National Defense Ministry in an official statement.

The National Center for Disaster Prevention (CENAPRED) states in a report that in December the medical care required due to burns caused by fireworks increases by 300%.

The organization also says that children between the ages of 5 and 14 were those at the highest risk of having an accident because of playing with fireworks. The most common injuries occur on the arms and torso (46%), followed by the eyes (30%), and the face and neck (16%).

The second percentage is associated with major complications, as sight is the most delicate of the five senses.

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Eyesight at risk

“In September and December, we always see children with injuries that range from slight surface burns to situations in which vision is completely lost,” says Vidal Soberón, an ophthalmologist at the Association to Prevent Blindness in Mexico (APEC), in an interview with Tec Review.

This expert says that he has treated children who have been struck by “palomas”, triangular explosives that they frequently put under cans and which fly off after the explosion.

“They become projectiles, and I have even seen children with small pieces of metal embedded in their eyes,” he says.

The specialist states that the eyeball is a very complex structure which requires a very particular balance in order to work well, so once it is seriously injured by fireworks, vision rarely returns to normal.

“There are patients who are left able to see shadows and light, but not able to read or distinguish faces,” he said.

Soberón also explained that if the open eyeball is not stitched with a very thin nylon thread within 48 hours of the accident, vision can be completely lost.

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Regulating rather than banning

The APEC ophthalmologist believes that the path toward total bans on pyrotechnics is not appropriate.

“They are very popular and long-held traditions; it would be very difficult to make people stop setting off fireworks,” he says.

Their proposal is for the creation of special areas for this fun, with safety measures put in place.

“The authorities should create parks where fireworks can be set off in a more controlled way, using eye protection,” he suggests.