4th July Fireworks See People Warn Their Sound Can Trigger PTSD in Veterans

As July 4 was marked with fireworks around the U.S., people raised awareness that this can be a source of stress for those living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"PTSD" was trending on Twitter on Monday morning, as people drew attention to the potentially harmful effects of fireworks on veterans living with the condition.

Comedian Sarah Silverman was among those to speak out, writing: "I will never understand how you can learn that fireworks terrorize dogs and cause deep PTSD in our veterans and still think 'nah I'm still gonna need the big big booms'."

I will never understand how you can learn that fireworks terrorize dogs and cause deep PTSD in our veterans and still think “nah I’m still gonna need the big big booms”

— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) July 5, 2021

PTSD is an intense and emotional response to thoughts and reminders of traumatic events, which occurs some time after the events themselves took place.

In some cases, people with PTSD relive the traumatic events, experiencing flashbacks, nightmares and extreme emotional and physical reactions, such as uncontrollable shaking, heart palpitations and tension headaches.

Fireworks can trigger PTSD symptoms like these in some veterans.

Jeremy Harrell, founder, and CEO of Veteran's Club, Inc., told Kentucky news outlet LEX18: "The sounds of fireworks—they can sound very similar to small arms fire, mortar rounds, just a plethora of explosives."

Harrell, who served in Iraq, spoke about his experiences of seeing fireworks with other army colleagues in Louisville after returning from service in 2004.

"We were just were uncomfortable. Every time it popped, we'd shake. And that occurred for some years until I talked about this with professionals."

Harrell said that eventually he was able to watch fireworks again after working on his anxieties.

"That's really the most anxiety-driven part of fireworks is not really knowing what it is—the uncertainty—but if I'm watching a firework go off then I obviously know someone's not trying to shoot at me or blow me up or take my life. So that helped a lot," he said.

Harrell also gave loved ones of veterans living with PTSD some advice on what to do if the individual in question is experiencing symptoms due to fireworks.

"Just say, 'Hey, you're in Kentucky,'" Harrell said. "It's just fireworks. You're not in Baghdad, you're not in Afghanistan, you're here at home, and I'm Jeremy.' And just keep reminding them who you are."

Craig Bryan, a clinical psychologist and trauma specialist at the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, told Everyday Health that PTSD can trick your brain into thinking that you are experiencing another reality.

As a result, "for some veterans with military-related PTSD, hearing the booms and feeling the shockwaves from fireworks can activate unpleasant memories from the past, prompting intense anxiety and fear," he said.

Bryan said repeating simple reminders can help people in this situation, showing them that they are not in danger and this is not a war zone. It is best to practice this skill before the trigger occurs, so that the individual becomes familiar with the technique.

4th July fireworks
Stock image showing July 4 fireworks over the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. Fireworks can trigger PTSD symptoms in some veterans. iStock