The Potential Dangers and How to Keep Your Eyes Safe During a Protest

Whether you are just standing on the sidelines or actively participating, there are a number of safety threats you can face at a protest. From flying projectiles and debris to the use of chemical irritants, the potential of sustaining an eye injury is high if proper safety precautions are not taken.

By preparing for the possibility of sustaining eye trauma at a protest, you can reduce the likelihood of permanent damage. 

What to Pack in a Protest First Aid Kit For Eye Health:

  • Safety glasses, goggles or face shield to be worn at all times
  • A cloth face mask to be worn at all times
  • Water to stay hydrated and to flush your eyes out 
  • A chemical eyewash solution to your flush eyes out
  • Baby shampoo to wash your hair, hands, and face of chemical irritants 
  • Disposable gloves 
  • A change of clothing and shoes

If you’re planning on attending a protest, here’s what our eye care experts at LaserVue Eye Center want you to know about proper eye care and safety.

how to protect your eyes during a protest

Chemical Irritants and Eye Safety

flush eyes of chemical irritants

Chemicals like tear gas and pepper spray are commonly used by police as non-lethal means of dispersing a crowd. They can cause excessive facial swelling, tearing, severe irritation, and breathing troubles. People with a pre-existing heart condition, asthma, or other breathing limitation are more at risk of prolonged issues if exposed to any chemical irritants during a protest.

The Effects of Pepper Spray on Eyes

Pepper spray is an inflammatory, oil-based agent commonly used against protestors by police. When sprayed in your face and eyes, the effects of this chemical agent are immediate. They include an intense burning sensation in your eyes, nose, mouth, and throat which can lead to problems breathing, temporary blindness, swelling, redness, and overall severe discomfort.

Pepper spray is 100% nontoxic, and in most cases, it does not have any long term effects on your health or vision. But studies have shown that people with pre-existing issues or allergies can have more severe reactions.

The Effects of Tear Gas on Eyes

Tear gas is another chemical agent commonly used by police during protests, that causes severe eye and respiratory discomfort, skin irritation, temporary blindness, and sometimes scarring. This gas stimulates the mucous membranes in your eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs causing uncontrollable tears, coughing, difficulty breathing, and severe pain. 

The effects of being exposed to tear gas usually appear within seconds and can last up to an hour after leaving the exposure area.

The Dangers of Chemical Irritants and Contact Lenses

The Dangers of Chemical Irritants and Contact Lenses

Many eye care specialists are advising people to avoid wearing contact lenses to protests. If you plan on attending a protest and rely on corrective eyewear to see, consider wearing eyeglasses instead. 

In the event you come into contact with pepper spray or tear gas you will need to remove your contact lenses immediately. The faster you can get the lenses out, especially before your eyelids begin to swell shut, the better. Wear sterile gloves if you can, and immediately flush your eyes with a chemical eyewash and/or water.

How to Flush Chemical Irritants From Your Eyes

Chemical eyewash solutions and water will aid in flushing the chemicals out, but typically only offer temporary relief. The use of milk, cooking oils, or baking soda to remove chemical irritants from your eyes, skin, hair, or clothing has not proven more successful than simple water. 

If you come into contact with tear gas or are pepper-sprayed, get out of the affected area and into the fresh air immediately. Begin flushing your eyes with water or eye solution, and washing your hair, hands, and face with baby shampoo, if available. If you have a change of clothing, remove all articles, shoes, and accessories that were exposed to the chemicals. 

Never rub your eyes after exposure. Instead, excessive blinking can help in flushing your eyes of chemicals. The oil and gas can remain active on skin and clothing for up to a week so deep cleaning or disposable will be required.

The Dangers of Rubber Bullets and Non-Lethal Projectiles and Your Eyes

A rubber bullet is a “less lethal” projectile used by police to control or disperse crowds of protesters. These bullets are one of the biggest threats to your long term health as they can cause significant physical harm, eye trauma, and permanent blindness. 

As more and more people lose eyes or sustain permanent physical injury from the use of rubber bullets, many eye care professionals and human rights advocates around the world are calling for their immediate ban.

Retinal Detachment and Blindness From Blunt Force Trauma

Your retina is an essential part of your eye that enables you to see. Blunt force trauma to your head, face, or eye, can cause your retina to tear, or detach from your eye causing a loss of vision. 

If hit with a rubber bullet, it is likely to cause severe trauma to your eye (such as retinal detachment)  that will require immediate emergency care. 

Common Symptoms of Retinal Detachment:

  • Flashing lights in one or both eyes
  • Floating spots
  • Blurred vision
  • Partial or full loss of vision
  • Tunnel or curtained vision 
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Dilated pupils
  • Severe redness

If you are hit with debris or a projectile, like a rubber bullet, and experience any of the symptoms above, it’s critical that you see your ophthalmologist right away. If left untreated, a traumatic eye injury like retinal detachment has the potential to quickly lead to permanent blindness.

Contact LaserVue Eye Center for Expert Eye Care

Click here to schedule a free consultation at LaserVue Eye Center

Whether it be blunt force or a chemical, trauma to your eyes should always be taken seriously. Our trusted surgeon Dr. Jay Bansal is eager to ensure you receive the highest quality care as soon as possible. In the event of an eye emergency, you should contact your local Emergency Room. 

If you are experiencing any non-emergent symptoms or eye discomforts, do not hesitate to schedule a consultation at LaserVue Eye Center with Dr. Bansal.