Fireworks may be fun to use on the Fourth of July, but they may also be a source of distress for military veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Kylie Dowell, psychologist at the domiciliary at the Eisenhower VA Medical Center, said people should be mindful of veterans when considering the use of fireworks.
“The sounds and smells of July 4 often bring smiles and excitement,” Dowell said. “To some veterans, however, these same sights, smells and sounds that elicit joy to many may cause intense distress.”
She said people who have been exposed to combat or other life-threatening situations may have increased sensitivity to light and loud noises that are often associated with Fourth of July festivities.
She said the auditory and visual triggers of fireworks can create an increase in PTSD symptoms.
“Fireworks can often make unexpected loud noises and create smoke which can increase hypervigilance, irritability, anxiety and intrusive memories,” she said.
She said some veterans may want to spend time with their families and friends on Independence Day, but may avoid doing so because of fireworks.
“They may seek isolation in the safety of their own homes,” she said.
Dowell said many veterans with PTSD anticipate fireworks on the Fourth of July and feel more prepared to cope with their symptoms on that day. She suggested people consider using fireworks only on July 4. She also suggested that people use fireworks that don’t make loud noises such as sparklers.
Dowell said it is important to remember that not all veterans have difficulty with fireworks.
“However, it is helpful if there will be veterans nearby to ask them if they have any difficulty during this time of year,” she said. “Most will appreciate others thinking about how the holiday might affect them. It is important to be respectful of military veterans at all times of the year, but this time of year can be particularly difficult. Mainly, it is important to be thoughtful by asking veterans if they are impacted negatively by fireworks.”