Tear gas has become more widely used in the past decade as a means of crowd control and to disperse riots. It is also being used by law enforcement for other purposes, primarily to control a person thought to be engaging in some type of potentially dangerous criminal activity. A handful of countries around the world have particularly upped their use of tear gas in law enforcement and crowd control endeavors in recent years:

  • United State
  • Hong Kong
  • Greece
  • Brazil
  • Venezuela 
  • Egypt

The use of tear gas has been the subject of debate in the United States and elsewhere. A key reason why this debate is ongoing is because of the physical impact tear gas has on individuals exposed to it. Tear gas can impact an exposed person in a number of different ways:

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

What Is Tear Gas?

The moniker “tear gas” in fact is a misnomer. Tear gas technically isn’t a gas. In fact, tear gas is a pressurized powder that creates a mist that looks like gas when released. Tear gas is deployed using canisters, grenades, or pressurized sprays. Since 1993, nearly all countries banned the use of tear gas during war. Tear gas is considered to be a prohibited chemical weapon. 

Location of Where Contact With Tear Gas Occurs

The extent of the impact of tear gas on a person depends on where the substance is dispersed. If tear gas is dispersed inside a building, the physical impact of the substance on people tends to be more significant than when used outside. Of course, the length of time tear gas is dispersed contributes to the impact on a person as well. An individual lessens the level of impact by evacuating the scene of tear gas use as soon as possible. 

Eye Symptoms

Eye symptoms are among the predominant effects of tear gas exposure. Eye symptoms that immediately follow exposure to tear gas include:

  • Tearing
  • Involuntary closing of eyes
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Blurry vision
  • Temporary blindness
  • Chemical burns

More significant, long-term tear gas eye symptoms are:

  • Blindness
  • Hemorrhages 
  • Nerve damage
  • Cataracts
  • Corneal erosion

Respiratory Symptoms

Another area in which tear gas impacts the human body is the respiratory system. Tear gas respiratory symptoms include:

  • Chocking
  • Burning or itching of nose and throat
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Respiratory failure

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Tear gas also has the ability to cause gastrointestinal issues for a person exposed to it. These include

  • Salivating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 

Skin Symptoms

Exposure to tear gas can also cause skin reactions, including some that are serious and that can persist. These are:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Blisters
  • Allergic dermatitis
  • Chemical burns

Other Symptoms

There are other consequences of tear gas exposure. Physicians for Human Rights report that prolonged or repeated exposure to tear gas can result in post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. When tear gas is being dispensed from a canister or grenade, a very real risk exists that the dispersal device may hit an individual. This can result in serious traumatic injury.

Exposure to tear gas is particularly risky for people with certain types of preexisting conditions. Individuals with preexisting heart conditions face the prospect of a notable increase in heart rate or blood pressure when exposed to tear gas, events that can result in cardiac arrest and in death.

There has been limited research involving the impact exposure to tear gas may have on a pregnant woman. Thus far, the research primarily has involved animals with only small-scale studies with humans. Early results from these studies do indicate that exposure of pregnant women to tear gas increases the risk of miscarriage as well as fetal abnormalities. 

Business or Residential Tear Gas Contamination

Because tear gas really is a pressurized powder, if the substance ends up inside a business, residence, or some other location, it will end up contaminating surfaces and objects throughout the premises. As a result, what was once airborne tear gas still presents a health hazard. Depending on certain circumstances at play in a building, including ambient temperature and the specific type of tear gas utilized, it is possible for the agent to become aerosolized, significantly impacting people exposed to it again.  

Tear gas residue will even end up in a HVAC system, which if not deactivated and then thoroughly cleaned, can have serious consequences. Successfully removing tear gas residue from an HVAC system, as well as from a business, home, or other location, is a herculean task. In order to protect the health and welfare of people in the aftermath of the use of tear gas, engaging the professional services of a tear gas cleanup company is advisable. With professional assistance, tear gas can be fully eliminated from a property and those people who access the location will not face additional health consequences and will have the peace of mind of knowing they are no longer at risk.