The pepper-spray cure
If you have ever bitten into a hot pepper, then you have probably experienced an extreme burning sensation passing from your tongue into your throat. When a person is contaminated with pepper spray, it creates a similar sting, inflaming the affected area and everything it touches. From last year’s Occupy movement to this year’s Contract Ed protests at Santa Monica College, the use of pepper spray has become a widely discussed issue.
The Santa Monica Fire Department responds to all 911 emergency calls, which means that when a protesting crowd is sprayed with an irritant, they are one of the first to arrive for help.
“Our treatment on a small scale would be normal saline,” says Judah Mitchell, training captain at the SMFD. Saline, a solution commonly used to clean contact lenses, contains a combination of sodium chloride and water.
“For a large scale, we would set up an emergency decon station, which would be water from our fire hoses,” Mitchell says. An emergency decontamination station, which was set up at the recent protests at SMC, is equivalent to walking through a cold shower, to help soothe the burn.
According to Self Defense Resource’s website, pepper spray may induce temporary blindness, coughing, an intense burning sensation of the skin, and at times nausea.
The website also states that the spray is an “organically based inflammatory agent derived from the active ingredient of cayenne peppers.” This active ingredient is called capsaicin, which is an inflammatory agent that causes a burning sensation much like when it is eaten.
The Pepper Spray Store, a website dedicated to pepper spray, offers a few helpful tips in case one encounters the substance.
It is helpful to blink constantly to produce tears rather than rubbing the eyes. This will help wash the spray from the eyes without spreading the pepper spray oil to other areas.
Pepper spray is designed to inflame capillaries, so when a contaminated area is touched or rubbed, it opens up the capillaries. This leads to increased burning sensations, and also spreads the oil to other parts that are touched.
To stop the burn, apply whole milk to the affected area. The milk will help with the burning sensations, but it does not remove the oil remaining on the skin. To remove the oils, use a mixture of water and Dawn dishwashing detergent and apply it intermittently for half an hour, then wipe it off with a towel.
“Just getting out of the area where they were sprayed helps too,” says Mitchell. “The effect of pepper spray should normally dissipate within 45 minutes, or sooner with fresh air and water.”