Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Center and an associate professor at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and Lewis Nelson, professor and chair of the department of Emergency Medicine, are available to comment on the effects of tear gas and pepper spray.

"Although tear gas and pepper spray are delivered differently, the best remedies for both are to get out of the environment, and wash your body, clothes, or anything that may have remnants on them with water and soap," said Calello. "No evidence shows the use of milk, petroleum jelly, or other remedies can prevent or treat the effect of tear gas exposure, especially if your eyes are exposed. Flushing out your eyes with water is all you need."

Calello describes, "These chemicals directly stimulate the pain nerves in your eyes, causing intense pain and tearing. They may also target the respiratory tract and can be especially hard on those with lung or respiratory conditions like asthma. You may start feeling some of the side effects within 20 to 30 seconds. Other adverse effects may include eye lid spasm, runny nose, difficulty swallowing, drooling, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, rash and burns on the skin, nausea, vomiting and a choking sensation."

“These chemicals are noxious and unpleasant but don’t generally cause long-term injury if deployed correctly”, said Nelson. “The use of tear gas, pepper spray, and chemical mace – all of which fall under the category of ‘lacrimators’, are intended to disperse crowds and deter aggressors while not causing permanent injury and damage. If exposed, the most important thing to do is to remove yourself from the exposure and self-decontaminate.”

Nelson adds that “most of those exposed do not need care in an emergency department, but the development of life-threatening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or visual difficulty, should prompt a call to the poison center (800-222-1222) or a visit to the local ED.”


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