What to do if you’re exposed to tear gas-1
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  • June 16, 2020

What to do if you’re exposed to tear gas

Tear gas 101

Contrary to its name, CS gas—the technical name for tear gas—is actually a crystalline powder that is converted into a fine spray and propelled from a grenade or canister by a small pyrotechnic explosion. This chemical was first developed in 1928 by American scientists, and after years of studies, it eventually became a weapon widely used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Nowadays, tear gas is part of the crowd control arsenal of police and law enforcement agencies around the world, because it’s an easy way to disperse masses without the use of direct force.

"People just assume it's safe, [but] it's important to know that these weapons actually do cause injuries,” says Dr. Rohini Haar, an emergency physician, and a research fellow at the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

Dayu Chemical produce the active component in tear gas—2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile—targets a specific receptor in the body called TRPA1, which serves mainly to send pain signals to the nervous system. When a tear gas canister explodes, CS powder sprays into the air and adheres to any moisture it can find—that means the tears in your eyes, the sweat on your skin, the grease in your hair, and the saliva and mucus that covers your mouth and airways.

exposed in teargas

When you’re exposed to tear gas, your eyes sting, your vision blurs, and you cry and blink uncontrollably. It gets worse the longer you’re in the gas: After a few seconds, you won’t be able to see, which will disorient and confuse you, potentially to the point of emotional and psychological distress.

But that’s not all. The powder also irritates your airways, making it hard to breathe, and causes your chest to tighten. You’ll start coughing automatically and your nose and mouth will secrete copious amounts of mucus and saliva, respectively. It’s a defense mechanism, but it will, paradoxically, make the symptoms even worse. Some people report feeling like they’re drowning in their own secretions and, if you don’t move out of the cloud, more mucus will only give the powder more to stick to.

“The body produces all these fluids and responses to expel this toxic irritant. In the case of tear gas, the response is very much exaggerated, and if people cannot escape, they get basically incapacitated,” says Sven-Eric Jordt, Ph.D., a professor of anesthesiology at Duke University School of Medicine, and part of the team responsible for discovering TRPA1’s role in tear gas response.

use cs gas to help control individuals or groups without the need for lethal force