The recent protests over the killings of George Floyd and numerous other unarmed Black people continue throughout the country and in response, the police officers have been using chemical irritants including tear gas, pepper spray, etc. for crowd control.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic crisis, millions of people are out on the streets protesting and have flouted social distancing norms. Pepper sprays and pepper bullets have all been used at an alarmingly frequent rate this week. Several videos documenting the use of pepper sprays are doing rounds on social media.

You might have experienced a mild form of pain and a burning sensation when you must have accidentally touched your skin or rubbed your eyes while chopping peppers. Imagine what it might feel like being pepper-sprayed since it contains a highly concentrated compound that produces all the heat in a pepper. Pepper spray can incapacitate people by blinding them, cause breathing problems, and more importantly, a great deal of pain.

“Pepper spray causes irritation of the eyes, skin, and mucus membranes. Eye exposures can result in pain, redness, watery eyes, difficulty opening the eyes and sensitivity to light. Skin exposures can cause pain, redness, swelling, and itching. Inhalation exposures can cause coughing, difficulty breathing, nasal and throat irritation, and runny nose. These effects are usually mild and temporary, lasting minutes to hours,” said Poison Control.

Although the reaction to a pepper spray is immediate and it is also possible to treat the symptoms after being pepper-sprayed. People who are gearing up to protest should be aware of ways to reduce their exposure to pepper spray and steps to take if they happened to get sprayed by the police.

Here’s what you should do if you have been pepper-sprayed:

1. Quit the place immediately

Even though pepper spray contains less range compared to crowd control agents like tear gas, it is potent. The proximity to the area where pepper sprays were used and the force of the propellant, affected the outcomes. Therefore, it is important to evacuate the area or shelter inside a building to avoid being exposed to the chemical, says CDC.

2. Wash quickly

If you happen to be exposed to the riot control agent, quickly remove your clothing and wash your entire body with soap and water. If your eyes have been pepper-sprayed, rinse them using plain water for at least 15 minutes. If you were wearing contact lenses, remove them, and wash them thoroughly. Wash eyeglasses, jewelry, and other accessories too.

3. Refrain from touching contaminated clothing

Do not touch any clothing that has been pepper-sprayed. Remove them immediately and place them inside a plastic bag using rubber gloves or tongs. Seal the bag and keep it inside another plastic bag and dispose of it appropriately.

4. Nasal irrigation, cool fluids, and other treatments

Runny nose and nasal irritation can be treated by performing nasal irrigation using a saline solution. Drink cool fluids to soothe throat irritation. You can also do a steam treatment like a steamy shower to improve cough or minor respiratory irritation.

5. Know when to seek medical help

In case of serious effects such as wheezing, breathing difficulties, chest pain, or persistent pain, seek immediate medical evaluation, says Poison Control.

Riot police used pepper spray and batons to beat back angry crowds after plainclothes officers made arrests inside Hong Kong's Harbour City, a luxury mall
Riot police used pepper spray and batons to beat back angry crowds after plainclothes officers made arrests inside Hong Kong's Harbour City, a luxury mall AFP / Philip FONG