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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.

An ambulance was dispatched to a local industry for a worker who had been sprayed in both eyes with brake fluid under pressure.  On scene, our paramedic inserted bilateral Morgan Lenses.  He proceeded to flush both eyes simultaneously with approximately 1500 cc N.S.S. on the way to the hospital.  The patient tolerated the entire procedure very well, felt much better, and an examination of the patient's eyes, after the Morgan Lens removal, showed no tissue damage.  The patient had a full recovery with no complications, thanks to the availability and efficiency of the Morgan Lens system.

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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.