Pepper spray is often used for self defense and crowd control, and although it can be effective, it is also dangerous. Oleoresin capsicum, which is derived from hot peppers, is what makes pepper spray powerful. Before using or handling pepper spray, you should be aware of its possible side effects.
A natural incapacitating effect of pepper spray is the swelling of the linings of the nose and throat. This will make breathing difficult for anyone, but for those with preexisting respiratory problems, such as asthma, it can lead to more severe problems.
Any time breathing is reduced, the body is not taking in as much oxygen as it normally would. Although the effects of pepper spray generally begin to wear off after 30 minutes, prolonged exposure can be especially dangerous.
Chemical burns, blistering and sores can result from naturally and artificially derived pepper spray. This reaction is more likely in individuals who are allergic to oleoresin capsicum, or who have had allergic reaction to peppers in the past.
Applying water to skin that is irritated by pepper spray will not help because capsicum is not water-soluble. Applying lotions and creams can trap the oleoresin capsicum onto the skin, making irritation worse. Wipes specially formulated for the removal of pepper spray and baby shampoo, which is often used by emergency services and responders, are known to be effective ways of removing pepper spray from skin.
Pepper spray is usually sprayed at the face, particularly the eyes. It typically causes tearing, redness, pain and, in some cases, swelling and chemical burns around the eye area.
The best way to relieve eye irritation after exposure to pepper spray is by trying to cry--tears get the oleoresin capsicum out of the eye. Flushing with water will not work. Specially formulated eye washes are also effective and should be used if they are available.
Some people experience temporary blindness after being exposed to pepper spray. This typically lasts no more than 30 minutes to an hour, but it can be frightening. There have been no studies related to the long-term effects of temporary blindness resulting from exposure to pepper spray.
Although it is rare, death can result from exposure to pepper spray. Deaths related to pepper spray are usually due to advanced age, preexisting heart conditions, or preexisting respiratory problems. Those with severe allergies to oleoresin capsicum may experience shock or become unable to breathe once exposed to pepper spray, leading to suffocation and death.