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Pepper Spray

Medium Risk

Also known as:

mace OC spray self-defense spray

Possible Symptoms
  • Immediate and intense burning sensation to the area sprayed
  • coughing and choking
  • runny nose
  • burning sensation of the lungs
  • shortness of breath
  • eye irritation with watering and stinging
What to Do
  1. Wash exposed area several times with warm water and soap.
  2. Use cold water soaks to help reduce the burning sensation.
  3. Wipe or rinse out the mouth.
  4. Drink sips of cold milk or fruit juice.
  5. Call 1-800-222-1222 for additional instructions.
If Exposed to Eyes
  1. Start rinsing eye(s) with lukewarm water.
  2. Call the Missouri Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 for further recommendations.

Additional Information

Quick Facts about pepper spray:

Pepper sprays are formulated with oleoresin capsicum, a natural component of hot pepper plants.  It is used for self-defense in the form of a spray and is also used in some topical arthritis rubs. The spray allows the victim to separate from the attacker and gives them time to escape.

Capsaicin is a strong irritant which causes a reaction on contact. Although the effects of the spray can persist about 30 minutes to several hours, long-term issues are not expected. When sprayed in the face, symptoms can include:

Pain that forces the eyes closed and reduced eyesight with stinging and burning.

A burning sensation in the throat accompanied by choking, coughing and difficulty breathing.

Sensitivity to warmth and touch, redness and burning pain to the exposed skin.

Note:  Pepper spray is similar to mace but there are some important differences. Mace is a synthetic (“man-made”) chemical and is sometimes referred to as tear gas. It takes up to 30 seconds to “kick in” compared to pepper spray which causes an immediate reaction. Decontamination or removal of mace from the skin is difficult because the chemical residue can last for days.

If someone has been accidentally sprayed with pepper spray, do not panic. Gently wash irritated skin several times with soap and warm water – as warm as tolerated because it is better at removing capsaicin but may increase discomfort. Then, repeated cool water soaks may help relieve burning sensation or irritation. Pat dry with a towel; do not rub. If swallowed, rinse the mouth several times with water or wipe out with a soft, wet cloth. Sipping cold milk or fruit juice can help relieve pain. If the eyes are exposed, rinse with cool tap water and call the Missouri Poison Center right away for further instructions!

There are additional rinses and substances that can help relieve pain so call the Missouri Poison Center right away at 1-800-222-1222.  The poison center is open all day, every day for poisoning emergencies and questions.

Take The Missouri Poison Center With You

Emergencies don’t wait for you, so you shouldn’t have to wait to call for help. Get the Missouri Poison Center app with poison information and a link to the Poison Help Line. It is just a click away during the most stressful moments. Our registered nurses and pharmacists are here 24/7/365 days a year to help guide you through poison exposures and overdose emergencies.

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