‘Triggering’: How fireworks impact veterans with PTSD

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — As the country celebrates the Fourth of July this weekend, it is important to remember that fireworks can be very triggering for veterans with PTSD.

Dr. Sarah Mallis, a clinical psychologist with the Department of Veterans Affairs, says you should be conscious of your veteran neighbors while celebrating the holiday.

“The sound of fireworks exploding mimics the sound of gunfire that they may have experienced in combat,” Mallis said.

The VA recommends veterans let their friends or family know if fireworks bother them.

“It can be helpful for veterans to know what to expect. I think sometimes the most triggering thing is when they hear the explosions and they don’t know that it’s coming,” Mallis said.

Common symptoms of PTSD can include light sensitivity, sound irritability, uneasiness in crowds and flashbacks from sounds or smells.

“Imagine the scariest time in your life and remember what happened in your body, sort of that shock that hits your body, that rush of adrenaline that goes through and how your heart starts racing, your thoughts can kind of scramble,” Mallis said.

Some veterans do not want to bring up the topic of fireworks, so Mallis suggests getting to know your neighbors.

“Check with your neighbors or community members to see if you have any combat veterans and if so if they’re impacted by fireworks,” Mallis said.

She teaches veterans coping methods to deal with sounds and flashes.

“I would recommend that any veterans who are bothered by fireworks invest in some good earplugs or potentially go out of town if that’s a possibility for them,” Mallis said.

Deep breathing exercises are another tool some find helpful when experiencing trauma reignited by fireworks.

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