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Personal Defense Sprays: Effects and Management of Exposure

Author: Lee RJ, Yolton RL, Yolton DP, Schnider C, Janin ML, U.S. Army, Medical Service Corps, USA

Publication: J Am Optom Assoc 1996 Sep;67(9):548-60

BACKGROUND: Most personal defense sprays contain o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS), w-chloroacetophenone (CN), oleresin capsicum (OC), or a combination of these ingredients as the active agent. They are designed to incapacitate by causing acute ocular irritation, lacrimation, conjunctivitis, blepharospasm, and mild to moderate respiratory distress.

METHODS: To assess the ocular effects of sprays containing OC as the active agent. Snellen visual acuities and anterior segment appearances of 22 police officers were determined before and after spray exposure. To asses the effects of OC spray contamination on soft contact lenses, four brands of lenses were sprayed and cleaned twice with an alcohol-based cleaner. Gas chromatography was used to search for residual OC in the lenses.

RESULTS: All officers experienced intense blepharospasm, lacrimation, conjunctivitis, and the incapacitation as the result of spray exposure. Acute effects lasted about 5 to 10 min, with relatively complete recovery occurring in about 30 to 60 min. All had significant conjunctivitis, and some had water-drop-shaped corneal defects that stained with fluorescein. These defects resolved within 24 hours without treatment. OC residue was found to be present in the soft lenses that had been sprayed and cleaned twice.

CONCLUSIONS: Optometrists can manage uncomplicated spray exposure patients by directing at-home irrigation with water, and following up with an in-office examination. Soft lenses contaminated by OC spray should be discarded.

Thanks for the opportunity to sing the praises of the Morgan Lens! Those of us who have been in the field for a while wonder what we ever did without them!  We find two general uses for the lenses.   One is for contact irritation:  most typically, splashes.  After local anesthetic, for ease of insertion, the lenses fit comfortably on patients of all ages and provide gentle and thorough irrigation of irritant substances. We have many cases of this type.  The second most common use is for patients show suffer multiple injuries due to automobile accidents, major trauma, burns, falls, etc.  Not only does the lens thoroughly irrigate the eye, removing most or all of the debris that has accumulated, it more importantly frees up the nurse's hands so that she can perform other lifesaving functions.  Quite frankly, eye irrigation was treated as "the bottom of the list" often because other patient's other injuries were more devastating with higher morbidity and mortality.  Particularly in the burn patient, the soothing effect of the irrigation and potential to prevent infection or further injury, make it an easy to use, valuable asset for patient care.

Registered Nurse (Montana)

MorTan Inc.

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Why Use The Morgan Lens?

The Morgan Lens is used in 90% of hospital emergency departments in the USA and can be inserted in less than 20 seconds. There simply is no other "hands-free" method of eye irrigation. Nothing else frees medical personnel to treat other injuries or to transport the patient while irrigation is underway. Nothing is more effective at treating ocular chemical, thermal, and actinic burns or removing non-embedded foreign bodies, even when the patient's eyes are closed tightly. Its design makes it simple and straightforward to use so minimal training is required.