What do you do if you’re pepper sprayed?

U.S.
A man's hand holds a gas pepper spray (Getty Images)

A man’s hand holds a gas pepper spray (Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) — While carrying pepper spray is an easy and dependable way to defend yourself from attackers, it can also be dangerous if you find yourself on the receiving end of an attacker using the potent aerosol also known as “mace.”

Recently, several women in Los Angeles were randomly attacked with pepper spray outside of bars. Police in Costa Mesa, California, say the suspect, a self-identified “incel,” walked up to the women and pepper-sprayed them when they denied his vulgar advances. Two victims of the incidents described the pain they felt after the attack to KTLA in Los Angeles, with one of the women saying, “You can’t describe the pain, it was horrible.”

Pepper spray is made from a plant extract called oleoresin capsicum (OC), Popular Science explains. It’s the exact same stuff that gives jalapeño and other peppers their spicy burn. While typical jalapeño peppers have between 2,500 and 10,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), consumer-grade pepper sprays often pack more heat – police-strength formulations are among the strongest.

Pepper spray is also used by police forces in some cities to control crowds during protests and large gatherings. It’s a practice that’s been widely criticized. Law enforcement pepper spray can contain up to 5.3 million SHU, PopSci says.

So what happens when you get pepper-sprayed?

If pepper spray is deployed around you, you’ll immediately feel burning in your eyes and throat, according to a study on pepper spray pain published by the University of California, Irvine. Researchers observed 40 law enforcement recruits who were exposed to pepper spray as part of their training – recruits rated their pain level over 15 minutes on a scale of 1-10.

How painful was it? Well, the two groups of recruits reported a mean initial eye discomfort level of 9.6 and 9.7. Pain only decreased to around 8.7 and 7.2 10 minutes later. Meanwhile, respiratory discomfort was initially rated as 8.2/8.6 and there was little change 10 minutes later.

What do you do if you are pepper-sprayed?

  • While it’s against your likely natural reaction, don’t rub your eyes. Dr. Robert Glatter, a New York City emergency physician, tells Men’s Health that rubbing only spreads the material around.
  • Keep blinking. Your natural instinct is to close your eyes, but keeping them open will help your tears run, PopSci says.
  • Applying baby shampoo is widely recommended for neutralizing burning. Do this first, if possible.
  • Irrigate eyes with lots of water. Glatter says several liters may be necessary. While 20-ounce bottles of water may be readily available in the moment, you’ll likely need more than that to ease the pain. If you have any sterile saline solution available, try that.

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