What is pepper spray?
Pepper spray is a tearer, which means it stimulates the eyes to produce tears, many tears to the point of not being able to see.
It usually comes in an aerosol format or in sprays.
The main component of pepper spray is an oil known as capsium oleoresine.
This oil comes from plants of the genus Capsicum which also includes chili pepper and that is why the name pepper has a more common sound than Capiscum.
The active ingredient of the pepper spray is capsaicin, the same chemical that adds the characteristic heat to chili peppers.
Pepper spray contains much higher concentrations of capsaicin than chili peppers.
Capsic oil also forms the basis of the animal spray, an aerosol designed to protect humans who encounter aggressive animals.
Pepper spray has a very high score on the Scoville (SHU) heat unit scale, which measures the “heat” of peppers.
On the Scoville scale:
- a pepper size 0 SHU
- a jalapeño pepper marks about 2,500-5,000 SHU
- Pepper spray that law enforcement agencies use measures between 500,000 and 2 million SHU, with some brands measuring 5.3 million SHU not legal in some countries for civilians but usable by law enforcement.
The capsaicin concentration of most pepper sprays used by law enforcement is 5-10%.
A higher concentration produces longer-lasting effects.
The use of pepper spray is controversial, particularly when members of law enforcement units in some countries use it against civilian protesters.
The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the use of riot control measures such as pepper spray and tear gas in war, but law enforcement agencies use pepper spray and tear gas to disperse crowds and suppress protests.
Civilians can buy pepper spray in specialty stores, online stores, or armory stores, although some states limit sales but are easy to find.
The physical effects of pepper spray
When pepper spray comes into contact with a person’s eyes, it causes:
- immediate closing of the eyes,
- acute pain in the eyes and
- temporary blindness.
Some people describe a feeling of gurgling or boiling and a strong discomfort, disorientation.
Pepper spray can also have the following effects:
- dry cough or wheezing
- shortness of breath or inability to breathe properly
- burning in the throat
- chest pain
- a dripping nose
- panting for air
- an inability to speak
- loss of consciousness
- rashes, blisters or burns in contact with the skin
People report eyeball scratches or corneal abrasions, in about 10% of cases.
Such scratches are temporary and can result from a person rubbing his eyes.
Although painful, the symptoms are self-limiting in most cases.
They tend to resolve on their own within 30 minutes and usually do not require medical attention.
Coughing or shortness of breath may persist, especially in people with lung disorders. People with conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may experience more severe respiratory effects.
In rare cases, pepper spray can cause cyanosis, a bluish disting of the skin that indicates a lack of blood flow and oxygen.
Complications are rare, but severe exposure can lead to more serious injuries to the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract.
The Police Policy Studies Council recommends taking an exposed person to the hospital if their symptoms persist for more than 45 minutes or if the person requests it.
The group recommends calling emergency services if someone shows signs of distress after exposure to pepper spray, such as:
- a loss of consciousness
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
Death is rare, but several reports have implicated pepper spray in fatal outcomes in people with asthma.
In general, pepper spray is not lethal and cannot cause permanent or even temporary injuries,but you must be aware of the effects that it can cause in a person who is affected.
Being affected by pepper spray involves a strong irritation concentrated at eye level, which presents with abundant tearing and the need to keep your eyes closed.
The face is also affected by irritation.
In some cases of allergy it could lead to respiratory problems that generally resolve anyway without consequences.
Treatment of the infected part with pepper spray.
What should you do immediately after a person sprays pepper spray in your face?
Consider that it is something that can happen for several reasons, such as someone who used it inappropriately, used it badly yourself, was robbed in this way, etc.
Follow these steps! Pepper Spray Antidote and First Aid.
The first thing you should do is to reach a well-ventilated area with fresh air.
Loosen or remove all clothing around your neck, chest or waist that may limit breathing.
If you are wearing contact lenses, remove them.
Wash your face and hair with running water and non-abrasive soap for at least 15 minutes, but do not rub your eyes, as this can increase exposure to pepper spray.
You may feel burning and burning for up to an hour, so be patient but if the pain is unbearable and lasts more than an hour, you have ingested pepper spray or have difficulty breathing, consult a doctor.
Wash all the clothing you were wearing when you came into contact with pepper spray.
There is no immediate cure for exposure to pepper spray, but often people can reduce the duration and intensity of symptoms:
- moving to an area with fresh air, if possible
- rinse the affected area with plenty of water to wash off contaminants
- avoiding using soap around the eyes as it is irritating
- remove clothing that may have come into contact with the spray to decontaminate and prevent recontamination.
- avoiding touching the affected area, as it is easy to spread the oil-based solution to other areas of the body
- blink quickly to help find the chemical
Popular strategies to remove pepper spray include baby shampoo, milk, ancids and lidocaine.
However, a 2008 study comparing these strategies found no evidence that they were more effective than water.
Even a 2018 randomized controlled trial reported no difference between baby shampoo and water alone in relieving the effects of tear gas and pepper spray.
Rescuers can use wipes and salt solutions to alleviate the symptoms of exposure to pepper spray.
A saline solution called diphoterin is an effective emergency treatment for various chemicals in contact with the eyes or skin, although research has not shown that it effectively removes pepper spray.
In most cases, the symptoms of pepper spray resolve within 10-30 minutes and do not require medical attention.