What to Do If You Get Tear Gassed

Last Updated: January 9, 2020

In my last survival post, I talked about how to survive a riot.   One of the main threats of a riot is getting sprayed by tear gas, or chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS gas), which is commonly used by law enforcement for crowd control.

I hope none of you ever have to use this knowledge, but it is important to know what to do in case you are tear gassed.

What Does Being Tear Gassed Feel Like?

One of the keys to survival is knowing what to expect in bad situations. While I personally have never been tear gassed, I know some people who have been.

They describe the experience as feeling like their eyes are being burned out, like they’d been sucker punched, like their skin has the worst sun burn ever.

Most people will be almost completely debilitated if they are directly sprayed by tear gas.

The term tear gas is actually a misnomer because it isn’t a gas. Chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS) is the active ingredient in tear gas, and is a chemical agent. Other types of chemicals may be used in tear gas formulas, but CS is the most common because it isn’t as toxic.

When the chemical is released, it will first come in contact with the eyes and skin. It will cause a profuse burning sensation and your eyes will begin to stream tears. You will also start to uncontrollably open/close your eyes. This incapacitates you by temporarily blinding you.

A split second later, the chemicals will get into your lungs. Your body reacts by trying to cough up the chemical. The chemical is so harsh that you will literally feel like you have been punched and cannot breathe. You can expect your throat and nose to feel like they are on fire too. In severe doses, tear gas can make people vomit.

It can take about 1 hour for the effects of tear gas to wear off, but your skin and eyes will likely be uncomfortable for much longer after this.

Precautions If You Might Get Tear Gassed

If you are going into a situation where you might get tear gassed (such as attending a protest or having to flee through the midst of a riot), then you can take steps to prevent the tear gas from getting into/onto your body.

Tear gas does affect the skin, but it is mainly a respiratory agent. You want to keep it out of your eyes, nose, and mouth. The best way to do this is by wearing a gas mask. You can buy gas masks at military surplus stores – just make sure it fits well!

The problem with a gas mask is that you are going to look like a freak wearing it around town. Keep it in your survival backpack. If you hear the tear gas guns going off, hold your breath and maybe you will have enough time to get the mask on before you breathe in the gas.

What about dust masks – can you use those to protect against tear gas? A recent study shows that dust masks are ineffective against tear gas.

The reason is because dust masks are designed to filter out either airborne particles (N95 dust masks) or dust (X301 dust masks). The problem is that tear gas contains both dust and airborne particles, so a standard dust mask isn’t going to filter out them both.

Tips which may work:

There are some tips about how to avoid the effects of tear gas. Unfortunately, most of these aren’t proven or aren’t very effective. Still, it is better than nothing and these tips may help reduce some (but not all) of the painful effects of tear gas:

  • Put toothpaste under your eyes
  • Dip a bandana in lemon juice and hold it over your mouth
  • Soak a bandana in apple cider vinegar, let it dry, and tie it around your mouth
  • Sniffing a cut onion: This won’t alleviate the effects of the tear gas, but it might help you cry out the chemicals faster!

tear gas

What to Do If You Get Tear Gassed

#1. Hold Your Breath

The moment you hear the tear gas guns going off, you should hold your breath and start getting away. You also want to close your eyes, but that will be a bit tricky to do while fleeing. 😉

#2. Cover Your Mouth and Eyes

If you have a handkerchief, put it over your mouth to prevent some of the chemicals from being breathed in. You can also protect your skin by putting on a jacket.

#3. Get Away from the Tear Gas

The mob will likely be fleeing, and you may be blinded by the tear gas, so proceed with caution – but you need to get away from the cloud of tear gas as quickly as possible to minimize further exposure. Go towards higher ground (tear gas chemicals are heavy and will sink) and towards the wind. You want to go to an area which has lots of fresh air so the tear gas can be blown away.

#4. Don’t Rub Your Eyes!

When you get sprayed by tear gas, your automatic response is going to be to rub your eyes. But this reflex is actually going to make the effects of the tear gas much worse. When you rub your eyes, you will cause the chemical to be pushed further into your membranes and increase irritation. Rubbing your eyes will also reactive the tear gas crystals, making the effects last longer. It will be tough, but avoid rubbing your eyes!!!

#5. Blow Your Nose, Spit, Cough

Help get the tear gas out of your body by getting rid of any mucus. Try not to swallow or sniffle.

#6. Flush Your Eyes

You can clean your eyes from tear gas by flushing them with saline solution or sterile water. If you wear contacts, get them out ASAP – just don’t do it with contaminated fingers or the pain will get worse.

#7. Take Off Your Clothes

Change your clothes as soon as you can or else the chemicals will be following you wherever you go and may contaminate other people near you.  One more reason to have a change of clothes in your emergency supplies.

#8. Clean Your Skin

First shower in cold water, and then in warm water. Do not take a bath as you will just be sitting in chemical water. You can also clean your skin of tear gas by putting canola oil on a cotton ball and wiping the skin, followed by vinegar.
Have you ever been sprayed by tear gas?  What’s your experience?  Let us know in the comments below.

Exploded tear gas can on the fly” by Original: User Ντουντούκα, φτώχεια και φιλότιμο of Athens Indymedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

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