July 3, 2008

Hospitals See Dangerous Mix of Alcohol, Fireworks

The man and his buddies had been tossing aerosol cans into a fire, watching them explode.

Sometimes, the exploding cans flew straight out of the fire, which is what brought the man to the Sterling, Ill., hospital while Dr. Scott Yilk covered an emergency room shift.

"One hit him perfectly - took his eye out," said Yilk, among the American Board of Emergency Medicine-certified physicians at Midwest Medical Center in Galena, Ill. "Was he loaded? Absolutely."

Yilk, whose main hospitals include Chicago's University of Illinois Medical Center and Saint Joseph Hospital, said a little liquor can become a big factor in prompting Fourth of July weekend emergency room visits.

"Like Memorial Day, it's a weekend when a lot of amateurs drink real heavily," Yilk said. "Liquor can increase the odds of having an accident. In the trauma (cases) over the Fourth, alcohol is almost always involved."

Increased alcohol consumption can trigger a wide variety of summer accidents, according to Sherry Frye, injury prevention coordinator at The Finley Hospital.

"People are camping, swimming and boating, and there is alcohol there," Frye said. "People don't pay attention to what is happening around them."

Adding alcohol to explosives, Yilk said, also fuels a big increase in risk of injuries.

"You get teenagers and adults drinking their beers and they start shooting bottle rockets at each other," he said. "People just need to step back and think:'Can I get hurt by this?'"

American hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 9,200 people for fireworks-related injuries in 2006. About half of the injuries were to the extremities.

Studies indicate 60 percent of fireworks injuries occur in the month surrounding July 4 and that 90 percent of fireworks injuries treated in the nation's emergency departments resulted from legally purchased, consumer fireworks.

Sparklers, which can burn at temperatures higher than 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, were responsible for more than 20 percent of fireworks injuries.

"Sparklers are very notorious for burning little kids," Yilk said. "Don't let young children play with really hot fireworks. A lot of parents give their 3- or 4-year-old a sparkler. That's a recipe for a bad burn."

A common injury results from children tossing a used - but still extremely hot - sparkler on the ground.

"You would be amazed how many people we see with a linear burn across the bottom of their foot," Frye said.

Originally published by ERIK HOGSTROM TH staff writer/ [email protected]

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