Tear Gas: How Dangerous is it for your eyes?

Mon Jan 13 2020

Tear gases are chemical weapons that cause a stinging sensation in the eyes. In worse cases, they can lead to coughing up blood, collapsing, and suffering from problems with the nervous system and epileptic fits. Though they are rarely disabling and the effects are short-lasting, doctors have reported severe symptoms after inhaling tear gas in some cases. Let us see understand what they are and how hazardous are tear gases?

What are tear gases?

Tear gases are lachrymator substances that cause irritation and tearing effect in the eyes, skin, and lungs. Regardless of the name, tear gases are not gases; they are solids at room temperature. They are mixed with gas dispersal agents or aerosols to make a grenade that, when exploded, creates a chemical cloud and affects the person’s nose, skin, and respiratory systems. There are different types of tear gases: Chlorobenzylidene Malononitrile (CS), Chloroacetophenone (CN), Dibenzoxazepine (CR), and Oleoresin Capsicum (OC). Since CN and CR have strong chemical structures and are a potent version of CS, they are rarely used. Typically, CS is used by law enforcement as a means of crowd control.

What damage do tear gases cause to the eyes?

Doctors agree that the common side effects of tear gases include:
  • Watery sensation
  • Burning eyes
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Excessive saliva formation
  • Skin irritation
  • Chest pain
  • Vomiting
Once you are exposed to tear gas, you will begin to notice symptoms after 20 to 30 seconds. It will cause a burning sensation to your mucous membranes and eyes, running nose, headache, or watery eyes. Also, physical exertion, such as running, which makes people come in contact with tear gas, makes them more susceptible to face severe symptoms. In that case, it is difficult to breathe, which could lead to violent coughing, and in turn, produces blood. Though the symptoms appear to be temporary, lasting only 20-30 minutes, if you are exposed to the gas for a longer duration or are not able to breathe fresh air, you might face long-term effects and other health-related issues. These include:
  • Corneal abrasion
  • Red eyes
  • Chronic skin reaction
  • Chemical burns on the skin
  • Lung injury

Things to do if you have been tear-gassed

Some conventional and immediate actions you should take to reduce the effect of tear gas include:
  • Wash your eyes:

    As soon as you get in contact with tear gas, wash your face instantly with cold water. Avoid warm water as it can open pores and worsen the stinging sensation. Remove your contacts as soon as possible if you get exposed to tear gas. In one incident at Ferguson, people were pictured pouring milk or using milk substances on their faces after they got exposed to tear gas. It was believed that milk soothes the pain caused by lachrymatory agents. In fact, antacids like Maalox dissolved in water were advised as a method of relief from the effects of tear gas.
  • Change your clothes:

    Tear gas seeps into the clothes, so make sure you wash them multiple times to ensure they are safe to don again.
  • Wash your face and exposed areas:

    Dip a napkin or towel in canola oil and wipe off your skin immediately. Make sure it doesn’t get into your eyes.
If irritation persists or you can still feel itchiness in your eyes, do consult with the CFS eye care center near you. At the Centre For Sight , we provide immediate treatment and consultation for your eyes. So don’t wait if you notice any symptoms, it is crucial to take care of your eyes.
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