A woman with pepper spray.

With review and feedback from ENT doctor Michael Sicard, MD (Matthews) and Optometrist Michael Spicola, OD (Huntersville)

People carry it to protect themselves at night. Police officers use it for crowd control. Sometimes, criminals use it in muggings. Pepper spray is very effective in subduing people, but how, exactly, does it work?

What is pepper spray?

Pepper spray is a chemical compound that irritates the eyes, causing a burning sensation, pain, and temporary blindness by dilating the eyes’ capillaries and inflaming mucus membranes. In addition to affecting the eyes, it also inflames mucus membranes in the nose, throat, and lungs, causing breathing difficulties and a runny nose. The effects of pepper spray can last up to 24 hours, although vision often recovers on its own in about 15 minutes.

What is pepper spray made from?

Pepper spray is primarily comprised of capsaicin, a chemical found in plants such as chilis and peppers. Propylene glycol is used to suspend the capsaicin derivative in water, which is then pressurized to make an aerosol spray.

How can I treat myself for pepper spray?

Micahel Sicard, MD

CEENTA ENT doctor Michael Sicard, MD, said the best thing to do is avoid putting yourself in a situation or event where you could be pepper sprayed.

“If you are unfortunate enough to be sprayed, capsaicin does not dissolve in water, so washing any affected skin does not help,” Dr. Sicard said.

In fact, water can spread the chemical on your skin and make the pain worse. Baby shampoo or milk is effective in cleaning the pepper spray from skin. Some companies also manufacture special wipes to help remove pepper spray.

You’ll want to flush the irritants out of your eyes, too. Blinking helps generate tears, which can help with this process.

Michael Spicola, OD

“Since pepper spray can cause a chemical burn in and around your eyes, as well as other mucous membranes, we recommend you rinse your eyes immediately with water and consult your doctor if you experience any persistent irritation,” CEENTA Optometrist Michael Spicola, OD, said.

How is pepper spray different from mace?

While today “Mace” refers more to a brand name than one particular product, “mace” in general refers to a range of chemical agents used to incapacitate attackers. The original mace was a substance similar to tear gas. However, it was taken off the market because it did not work on people under the influence of some drugs.

Pepper spray is legal, correct?

While you can possess pepper spray everywhere in America, there are some restrictions. For example, some states regulate the strength of the spray, or how old you must be to possess it. Also, it is illegal to bring pepper spray into the cabin of a commercial airliner. Some airlines will allow you to pack it in your checked luggage.

Can your doctors help?

Have you been pepper sprayed? Are you concerned about the effects on your eye and ENT health? If so, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with a CEENTA doctor.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Would you like an appointment with Dr. Sicard or Dr. Spicola? Call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


You may also be interested in

Woman with stuffy nose and nasal congestion
Struggling to Breathe Through Your Nose? Here’s Why

Is a stuffy nose preventing you from breathing? Learn more about common nasal congestion causes and how an ENT specialist at CEENTA can help.

Read More
Student listening with earbuds that may cause ear pain
Are your earbuds causing ear pain?

Do your ears hurt when you wear earbuds? Here are some common causes and what you can do to solve them. 

Read More
A woman's eyes water when tired
Why do my eyes water when I’m tired?

Tired and watery.

Read More

Leave a Comment



Back to News
This website is optimized for more recent web browsers. Please consider these upgrade options: IE10+(IE10+, Chrome Chrome, Firefox Firefox.
 Schedule An Appointment