Diwali celebrations are unfortunately often tinged with tragedy, sometimes because of irresponsible playing and experimenting with firecrackers. From lighting them incorrectly to being oblivous about how to minimise potential damage, people are often grievously hurt because of irresponsibility, ignorance or simply because they become an unfortunate victim of crackers going wrong. Here, experts tell you what to do, to protect life and limb. And to add a little levity to it all, an obesity consultant talks about going about it the right weigh (pun intended) this festive season.
Protect your lungs
Dr Amita Nene, Head of Chest Department, Bombay Hospital
The smoke of fireworks consists of toxic dusts (particulate matter up to 10 micrometres in size) that easily enter the lungs and represent a real danger for those already sick as well as for the healthy. Those most affected are children, the elderly, and those sensitive individuals with respiratory conditions. When you inhale smoke from firecrackers, it enters your breathing tube. The chemicals in the smoke irritate the breathing tube, causing inflammation (swelling).
This swelling reduces the diameter of the tube, making it narrower. As a result, you start coughing. This happens more commonly in asthmatics and smokers. The former are more susceptible as their breathing tubes are hypersensitive and the latter because they have already inflamed airways caused by harmful effects of cigarette smoking. Exposure of even a short duration can make them feel breathless, get tightening of chest and can also precipitate an asthma attack. Cases of asthma and bronchitis rise significantly during Diwali.
What to do:
1. Avoid exposure. Don’t be in the area where crackers are being burst or leave the city during Diwali.
2. If you have to burst crackers, do it in an open space away from a residential society. The chemicals from the crackers linger in the air for a long time after you have burst them and in an open non-residential space, it will affect fewer people.
3. If you are a resident in whose society crackers are being burst but you don’t want to be exposed to it, stay indoors and shut your windows and doors. If possible, use an air conditioner or air purifier with a good filter. That should keep you relatively safe.
4. Wear a paper or gauze mask to decrease smoke inhalation.
5. If you have asthma or bronchitis, drink plenty of hot liquids to loosen mucus and help you cough. Also keep your emergency medication handy.
6. Whether you are a known asthmatic or not, if you get frequent cough, mucous production, chest tightness or feel breathless, consult a lung specialist. The correct treatment can reduce the inflammation in the tube and will help you tolerate the firecracker smoke better.
7. Children are more susceptible to the harmful chemicals released by firecrackers because their breathing tubes are much smaller in size. Even a little swelling can affect them seriously and can cause a severe attack of asthma. It is best if they are not exposed to firecracker smoke, specially if they have asthma or frequent cough.
Save your skin
Dr Anil Tibrewala, Consultant plastic and cosmetic surgeon, Breach Candy Hospital
The modality of a burn differs depending on the cause. If you go in the sun and get sunburnt, it is superficial. If you get scalded, it will be a second degree burn. If you come in direct contact with hot liquid, the burns are much deeper. By and large, burns from firecrackers are second degree but when the clothes of the individual catch fire, the burns are more serious. I’ve seen horrifying cases even when firecrackers have been burst in well-controlled environments. There was a man once who walked in with a rocket lodged in the bone of his forehead. I’ve seen faces and hands of young boys being burnt because someone taunted them about being a sissy if they didn’t burst a firecracker in their hands.
What to do:
1. Stay away from firecrackers altogether. Firecrackers are made by children who have no idea about the difference between mixing five grams of a chemical and 50 grams of the chemical. There is no regulation in place, making crackers a risky bet.
2. If, for whatever reason, you are going to burst crackers, keep a bucket of water nearby. This should be mandatory. Little things will happen and it is best if you can pour water immediately.
3. If you do get burnt, put your affected area under running water. If that is not possible, take a wet cloth and cover the burn with it. Then visit the doctor immediately.
4. Some people have a tendency to put toothpaste on the wound, because it is white in colour like most of the antiseptic creams used to treat burns. However, toothpaste doesn’t help. Better to rush to the doctor.
5. Don’t wear clothes made of a synthetic material or which are long and floppy. Cotton is least likely to suddenly catch fire.
6. Don’t burst crackers which move, like rockets. It can affect you and the people around you. I know of a boy once who was taunted by his uncle and he burst the rocket upside down. His face was burnt and he lost his eyesight.
7. Don’t fiddle with crackers that don’t burst. If a cracker is not working, pour water on it and keep it aside.
Lend a ear
According to a senior ENT Consultant from Jaslok Hospital
The human ear can safely be exposed to a noise level of up to 80 decibels (dB). The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation conducted a study of 846 firecrackers made by 144 manufacturers in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu, in March this year and found that the lowest noise level generated was 120 dB.
Scientific studies have proved that hearing loss can occur immediately when the ear is exposed to a noise level of 120 dB.
What to do:
1. Wear ear plugs or ear muffs. These will protect the ears from the intensity of the noise produced when a firecracker bursts. Parents should especially take care to do this for babies and toddlers. Children should be taught to plug their ears with their fingers when a loud noise occurs.
2. Placing cotton in the ear is not enough protection as it is a porous material.
3. Maintain a minimum distance of 10 feet from the firecracker.
4. If you are indoors and someone in your housing society is blasting loud firecrackers, then shut your windows. This will help block out the sound. You can also switch on your TV and keep it at a low volume. That will interfere with the firecracker noise.
5. Pregnant women should stay away from firecrackers. Unborn babies develop the ability to hear from the 24th week of pregnancy. Loud noises can damage their hearing and elevate their heart rate.
6. During the day, our body is in fight or flight mode but during the night, it is in relaxation mode. The body is not geared up to protect itself while in relaxation mode. Loud noises in the night are hence even more harmful.
Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital
If precautions are not taken, firecrackers can harm the eye. Holding a firecracker in your hand and bursting it or standing very close to it after it’s lit are strict no-nos.
What to do:
1. Never ignite fireworks in a container, especially a glass or metal container.
2. Never have any portion of your body directly over a firework while lighting. Stay at least an arm’s distance away from them.
3. Don’t direct propellers or rockets towards people and buildings.
4. In case of injury to the eye, don’t press the eye with the palm or hand, lest the injury may get compounded.
5. Don’t tie a cloth across the injured eye firmly. This can cause undue pressure on the eye. Protect the eye. An ice-cream cup can be an excellent device to cover the eye. The same can be fixed with cellotape.
6. In case of chemical injury, wash the eye well with clean water. It is better to avoid washing eye in case of mechanical injuries.
7. Don’t neglect any eye injury, however trivial it may look. It is always better to rule out vision-threatening problems.
Dr Girish Gadkari, Obesity consultant
Trying to balance your intake of sweets with your diet is a futile exercise. What matters is your overall calorie intake.
What to do:
1. Eat whatever you want, but control the portion intake. If someone offers you four gulab jamuns, eat one. Eat another piece of a different sweet instead.
2. Don’t deprive yourself by not eating any sweet. Your mind will then be fixed only on the sweet all the time and you’ll find yourself going back and eating four pieces instead.
3. Substituting sugar for jaggery or vice versa will not really help as the calorie count of both are more or less the same.
4. Fat-free sweets are a marketing gimmick. The fat is what gives a sweet its taste. If there is no fat, there will be no taste. It won’t be palatable and you won’t eat it anyway.
5. Remember, Diwali is just five days. It is what you do the rest of the 360 days that matters.