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Tear Gas Exposure

How is it Deployed?

Tear gas and pepper spray can be sprayed from small hand-held dispensers or large fire-extinguisher sized tanks.

Pepper spray also comes in plastic projectiles which are fired at the chest to knock the wind out of a person, who then takes a deep breath of pepper from the burst projectile.

Tear gas is most commonly deployed via canisters, which are fired into crowds, and sometimes directly at people.

It’s important that you know not to pick up the canisters without gloves as they are extremely hot. Be aware that the time it takes you to throw it away from yourself will allow you to be heavily exposed.

Symptoms of Tear Gas Exposure

  • stinging and burning of the eyes, nose, mouth, and skin
  • excessive tearing
  • blurred vision
  • runny nose
  • salivation (drooling)
  • exposed tissue may develop a rash and a chemical burn
  • coughing and difficulty breathing, including a feeling of choking
  • disorientation and confusion, which may lead to panic
  • intense anger

Discomfort from tear gas usually disappears after 5-30 minutes, while the worst pepper spray discomfort may take 20 minutes to 2 hours to subside.

For more information on side affects of tear gas:
Public Health Emergency Preparedness">NYC Department of Health - Riot control agents"

First Aid

Recommended first aid for eyes is to flush them with sterile saline or water until the stinging starts to abate. Exposed skin should be washed with soap and water. Breathing difficulties are treated by administering oxygen and, in some cases, using medications that are used to treat asthma. Medicated bandages can be used on burns.


Avoid the use of oils, lotions and detergents because they can trap the chemicals against your skin and thereby prolong exposure. Wash your clothes, your hair and your skin beforehand in a detergent-free and unscented soap.

Use a water or alcohol-based sunscreen (rather than oil-based). if your choice is between oil-based or nothing, we advocate using the sunscreen. Getting pepper sprayed on top of a sunburn is not fun.

We also recommend minimizing skin exposure by covering up as much as possible. This can also protect you from the sun, as can a big hat, baseball cap or bandana.

Gas masks provide the best facial protection, if properly fitted and sealed. Alternatively, swimming goggles (with shatter-proof lenses), respirators, even a wet bandana soaked in vinegar over the nose and mouth will help.

When Exposed

  • STAY CALM - Panicking increases the irritation. Breathe slowly and remember it is only temporary. Educate yourself prior to going out, to know what to expect, and thereby reduce the likelihood of panicking.
  • If you see it coming or get a warning, put on protective gear, try to move away or get upwind if possible.
  • Blow your nose, rinse your mouth, cough and spit repeatedly. AVOID SWALLOWING.
  • If you wear contacts, try to remove the lenses or get someone to remove them for you, with clean, uncontaminated fingers. AVOID WEARING CONTACT LENSES BEFORE GOING OUT.
  • Do not rub in.