Tear gas is a term used to describe a group of chemical irritants that are commonly used to control or disperse crowds. The primary chemical used is 2-chlorobenzalmalonitrile, or CS, which is not a gas in its natural state, but rather a pressurized powder that creates a mist upon release.
The Effects of Tear Gas
The chemicals in tear gas have an impact on sensory nerve receptors, leading to pain and discomfort in the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes such as the throat. This results in tearing of the eyes, twitching around the eyes, coughing, difficulty breathing, and skin irritation.
If exposed to high doses of tear gas, it can cause severe eye and respiratory pain, bleeding, and even blindness. Additionally, it can result in respiratory illnesses, eye injuries and diseases, dermatitis, damage to the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems, and, in some cases, death. Contact lens wearers are at a higher risk of eye damage from tear gas.
People with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of tear gas. Similarly, those with heart conditions can experience increased heart rate or blood pressure, which can lead to cardiac arrest or death.
However, the effects of tear gas are generally short-lived and usually wear off within 15–20 minutes.
Protecting Yourself Against Tear Gas Exposure
One of the most effective ways to protect yourself from the harmful effects of tear gas is to wear protective gear like gas masks and respirators. Wearing swimming goggles to cover your eyes is also a great idea.
To minimize exposure, make sure to cover your face, eyes, nose, and skin as much as possible. Avoid wearing contact lenses to a protest where tear gas might be used as it could cause severe harm to your eyes.
Placing a scarf or bandana over your nose and mouth can help prevent the gas from entering your airways. Additionally, it’s important to avoid wearing oil-based creams, sunscreens, and make-up, as they absorb tear gas.
Finally, if you are in an area where tear gas has been deployed, try to move to higher ground, as the gas is heavier than air and tends to remain close to the ground.
How Can One Treat Exposure to Tear Gas?
Getting away from the source of the tear gas and into fresh air is the primary method of treating exposure to tear gas. Changing into clean clothing and rinsing the skin with cold water can also help to reduce skin reactions.
Avoid using hot water as it may open the pores and make skin irritation worse. Instead, rinse your eyes with saline solution or water to reduce eye irritation. Avoid rubbing your eyes or face as it can reactivate the tear gas crystals.
After exposure, take a shower using cold water, avoiding inhalation of any remaining tear gas. Wash your hair thoroughly and avoid taking a bath as it may result in further exposure to the chemicals.
It’s essential to stay safe while participating in peaceful protests, and knowing how to treat exposure to tear gas can help.