Perhaps at no other time since the civil unrest of the 1960s have people in the United States paid attention to the subject of tear gas than was the case in the spring of 2020. During the spring, a considerable number of people took to the streets to protest. In some instances, and for a variety of reasons (including those having nothing to do with the protest themselves) situations occurred which resulted in law enforcement using tear gas. Of course, those on the streets in protest and otherwise were impacted by the tear gas. But, so were business owners, homeowners, and others not involved in the activities that motivated the use of tear gas in the first instance. With this in mind, the wider use of tear gas in the United States, including in California, underscores the need to know the basics about treating a person after exposure to tear gas.

Overview of Tear Gas

Although called “tear gas,” this agent dose more than cause people to cry and isn’t even a gas. In fact, what is classified as tear gas in the United States actually is an umbrella term for a number of agents (none of which are in fact gases). 

There are a trio of tear gases that are most frequently used by law enforcement agencies in the United States:

  • CS
  • CN
  • OC

There are different strategies to cleanup these different types of tear gas. The reality is that tear gas cleanup is both highly challenging and rather dangerous. For these reasons, obtaining professional tear gas cleanup for a business, home, or other location is nearly always a firm recommendation. 

With that noted, in most case, people can take care of their physical responses to exposure to tear gas on their own initiative. They are able to do so if they have an understanding of what to do.

Effects of Tear Gas Exposure

Tear gas can have an array of effects on a person exposed to this agent. These include:

  • Eye symptoms
  • Respiratory symptoms
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms 
  • Skin symptoms
  • Other symptoms

Common eye symptoms associated with tear gas exposure are tearing, involuntary eye closing, itching, burning, blurry vision, temporary blindness, and chemical burns. In some instances, people suffer even more serious eye symptoms after exposure to tear gas. These symptoms are blindness, hemorrhages, nerve damage, development of cataracts, and corneal erosion. 

Respiratory symptoms that can arise from tear gas exposure include chocking, burning or itching of the throat and nose, coughing, tight chest, and respiratory failure. Symptoms of gastrointestinal nature that can follow tear gas exposure are excessive salivating, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Skin symptoms that can arise from exposure to tear gas are itching, redness, blisters, allergic dermatitis, and chemical burns.

Some of the other potential symptoms that arise from contact with tear gas may include cardiac arrest and PTSD. There is some evidence that a pregnant woman exposed to tear gas has a heightened risk of miscarriage. There also may be an increased risk of fetal abnormalities.

Steps to Treat Tear Gas Exposure

The first and most fundamental step to treat a person after exposure to tear gas is to get away from the source of that gas as quickly as possible. For example, if the interior of a business is exposed to tear gas, those inside need to get outside as quickly as possible to breathe fresh air. If you’re hit with tear gas, it bears repeating that you will want to move quickly. 

When exposed to tear gas, there will be a strong compulsion to rub your eyes. Absolutely do not rub your eyes. All types of tear gas used on American civilians are oil-based substances. If you rub your eyes after being exposed to tear gas, you will spread the substance across your face and deeper under your eyelids and pores. 

As soon as you access fresh air, you need to remove all of your clothing. Each derivation of tear case is comprised of chemicals that are capable of soaking into and through all layers of your clothing. 

Once your clothing is all removed, placed it into a bag that can be sealed tightly. You will tend to washing the clothing later, a matter which will be discussed shortly. 

Once you’ve removed your clothes, you have to exercise a degree of patience. You need to sit tight and permit the tear gas on your skin to dry.  

The only exception to letting tear gas dry is if you have immediate access to a shower. You need to adjust the water to as cold as you can stand. Once in the water, you need to forcefully scrub your entire body (including your hair). You will want to repeat this process three times.

The first time you scrub after tear gas exposure, the substance will activate. This can prove uncomfortable and even painful. That reaction will subside the second and third pass.

If you cannot immediately access a shower, and need to clear your eyes of tear gas, milk can accomplish the task. The easiest way to use milk to ease the pain associated with tear gas is to place the liquid in a shot glass. You then tip the open end of the shot glass against your eye and hold it in that position by tilting your head back. 

When it comes to cleaning your clothes, you will want to wear gloves before you open the bag containing your apparel. You want to avoid touching the exterior of your washing machine with your gloved hands or the clothing because that can leave tear gas residue behind. The recommendation is that you run your clothing through the washing machine for at least two full cycles. 

Premises Tear Gas Cleanup

As mentioned previously, you will want to consider hiring a tear gas cleanup professional to remediate this type of contamination in your business, home, or some other location. When people embark on cleaning up tear gas on their own, they oftentimes re-contaminate themselves. In addition, they sometimes spread tear gas residue to others. Perhaps most significantly, it is nearly impossible for a proverbial layperson to thoroughly undertake tear gas cleanup and restore a property to a safe, fully usable condition.