10 long-term health effects of teár gas

By , K24 Digital
On Thu, 30 Mar, 2023 07:00 | 4 mins read
10 long-term health effects of tear gas
Police lob tear gas canisters to disperse protesters. PHOTO/Courtesy

With Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga calling for protests every Monday and Thursday, one thing has been certain — tear gas will be used to disperse protesters. Tear gas is a collection of chemicals that cause skin, respiratory, and eye irritation. While most people recover from its exposure without any significant symptoms, there is evidence of permanent effects in some cases as Jane Kimiti explores.

1. Chemical burns

Scarring maybe caused by burns sustained by the teargas grenades. The burns can range from first-degree to second-degree burns. The first degree only affects the epidermis or the outer layer of the skin while the second degree affects the epidermis and part of the dermis layer of the skin.

Minimising the amount of time you’re in contact with the gas by moving away as quickly as possible can minimise your risk of developing more severe side effects. People who experience chemical burns need to seek medical attention. The standard treatment is to rinse all traces of the chemical off the skin, cool with water, and apply a dressing.

2. Blindness

Exposure to teargas may lead to blindness or corneal ulcers that is a result of glaucoma or cataracts from eye contact with the rapidly expanding or liquefied gas that causes irritation to the eyes.

Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve while cataracts is clouding of the normally clear lens that sits in the eye behind the pupil. You may be able to minimise your exposure by covering your eyes, mouth, nose, and skin as much as possible.

Wearing a scarf or bandana over your nose and mouth may help prevent some of the gas from entering your airways. Wearing goggles can help protect your eyes.

3. Pulmonary edema

Asthma and pulmonary edema can be triggered by teargas whereby the lungs are filled with fluid and respiratory arrest due to toxins inhaled. Asthma may worsen due to tear gas as one tends to experience shortness of breath and wheezing while breathing out.

A person who has breathing problems after tear gas exposure may need oxygen. Asthma medication can widen the airways and help someone breathe.

4. Permanent damage of plasma and mucosal membrane

If inflammation of the mucosa membrane occurs, it may swell and lead to blocking of the sinuses outlet. Damage to the plasma membrane induces entry of toxic agents into the cells, which threatens the afflicted cells with an immediate cell death. This may lead to higher chances of acquiring a flu and viruses such as coronavirus.

5. Chronic coughs

Tear gas inhalation may cause persistent coughs for several weeks and chronic inflation of the lungs after repeated exposure to tear gas. After inhaling this gas, there may be blockage in air packages, therefore, causing someone to cough a lot.

Sometimes it is due to activation of existing hay fever, rhinitis or having less elastic air sacs. Rhinitis happens in case one is allergic to tear gas causing the nose to be inflamed and swollen.

6. Dermatitis

Irritative and allergic contact dermatitis is brought about by the itchy rash and skin irritation caused by a component in tear gas known as 2-chloracetophenone (CN).

A few days after coming to contact with CN, one may experience widespread lesions. Rarely extensive health problems may be caused by CN when lesions spread over the skin. This further causes the skin to blister, ooze, crust or flake off. Others may also experience scaly patches and red skin.

7. Projectile injuries

One can get projectile injuries due to fatal injuries caused by being hit with a lot of impact on the body by the flying tear gas canister thus causing trauma to the hit part, bruises and skull fracture. These types of injuries appear to begin small, but become wider. These types of wounds cause the complete displacement of the bone with radiating fracture lines from the point of impact.

8. Damage of the central nervous system

Harmful toxics such as the chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS) gas found in tear gas may damage blood vessels and the central nervous system. This heavily interferes with distribution of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body tissues.

The blood vessels also facilitate getting rid of tissue matter. Repeated exposure to teargas can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Vivid flashbacks of teargas trauma tends to cause distress, intrusive thoughts and nightmares triggering increased heart rate and eventually to high blood pressure.

9. Abnormalities in the menstrual cycle

One study found that women exposed to tear gas may have abnormal menstruation cycle that lasts for several months after constant inhalation. Some of the women gassed in the past complained of having their period more than once in one month and unusual cramping.

This might also be induced by the stress and anxiety the women might experience because of inhalation of the gas, hence interfere with their reproductive systems.

Some animal research suggests that exposure to CS gas may increase the risk of having a miscarriage or cause fetal abnormalities.

10. Death

Excessive inhalation of the tear gas can lead to death due to chemical burns on the throat and lungs. When tear gas is emitted indoors in an enclosed environment with poor ventilation, the concentration of the gas can be very high and it can kill someone, especially one with an existing respiratory condition. Tear gas exposure can lead to increased heart rate or blood pressure.

In people with preexisting heart conditions, this can lead to cardiac arrest or death. Also, skull fractures or head injury that occur from projectile injuries may lead to traumatic brain injury and eventually death.

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