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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: With Independence Day approaching, I'm asking for your help in reminding your millions of readers about the danger of fireworks, especially to the eyes.

Each year during Fourth of July celebrations, thousands of adults and children are seriously injured as a result of fireworks and pyrotechnic devices. Many of the injuries affect eyesight, permanently damaging -- and in some cases blinding -- the victims. In response, the American Optometric Association (AOA) urges people to refrain from using fireworks and to instead enjoy professional displays.

About two-thirds of fireworks-related injuries are burns. Most of the burns involve the hands, eyes, head and face. Almost half of the victims are under 15 years of age, and 75 percent of them are male. The most frequent cause of fireworks injuries requiring trips to the emergency room is sparklers. (Did you know that sparklers can heat up to 1,800 degrees, enough to melt gold?) A sparkler can also literally poke someone's eye out.

This may come as a surprise, but bystanders are also not safe from injury. Data from the U.S. Eye Injury Registry reveals that half of all fireworks injuries occur to bystanders.

So, on this Fourth of July, members of the AOA urge your readers to protect their eyes by avoiding fireworks and enjoying professional displays from a safe distance. -- DR. WESLEY PITTMAN, PRESIDENT, A.O.A.

DEAR DR. PITTMAN: Thank you for the timely reminder. Although many people, young and old, regard fireworks as harmless fun, the facts show otherwise.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, during 2002, an estimated 8,800 people were treated in hospital ERs for injuries associated with fireworks. An estimated 20 percent to 25 percent of fireworks injuries are to the eyes -- mostly contusions and lacerations -- and most of those are caused by firecrackers, rockets and sparklers.

So, a word to the wise: Have a "blast" on the Fourth of July -- but do it in a way that will protect yourselves and your families.

DEAR ABBY: I am 17 and currently involved with a guy from school. The guy that I was with for a year and a half (my ex) wants to marry me. I still have feelings for him, but not like I used to.

I like my new boyfriend and don't really want to leave him. When my ex and I broke up, it was only supposed to be "a little time apart." My ex showed signs that he was moving on, so I did the same. Now that he wants to get back together, I don't know what to do. Should I go back with him and give it a chance or let him down gently? -- PULLED IN TWO DIRECTIONS

DEAR PULLED: You are 17 years old and on the brink of a bright and exciting future. Why are you in such a hurry to make a permanent commitment? Since you have already "moved on," you should continue moving on. When the right man comes along, you won't need to ask anyone what to do -- you'll know.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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