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Eye protection advice during protests

The protests and violence in Portland, and elsewhere, have brought unpleasant subjects into our discussions, such as injuries caused by tear gas and rubber bullets. Here are some basic things to know about what to do if you or someone around you suffers an eye injury. 

Rubber bullets are considered “non-lethal”, but they can severely damage or even blind an eye. Many have metal cores. Any eye injured by such a weapon must get immediate specialized attention at the nearest ER. While being transported, the eye should not be touched, rubbed, or have any pressure put on it, as the globe may be ruptured. A disposable cup can be placed over the entire eye and taped to the face, for protection, and those materials can easily be added to your backpack. Do not attempt to rinse the eye, just protect it and get them to the ER as fast and calmly as possible.

Tear gas is a chemical weapon and will cause damage to the eye tissues. Even with eyes closed, it will penetrate. The amount of injury to the eye depends on how direct the exposure is: whether the fog is dilute or the spray is direct. Eye protection, such as goggles, will help reduce the impact. Even spectacle glasses will help. Contact lenses absorb the gas and hold it close to the eye, so they should be removed IMMEDIATELY to avoid lasting damage. Carry prescription glasses with you, or just wear those to the protest, instead of the CL’s. If exposed, exit the contaminated area ASAP, moving to higher ground and fresher air. Blink frequently. Rinsing with artificial tears or bottled water will provide relief. Milk isn’t helpful, and tap water is not recommended, so keep some artificial tears and a bottle of water in your backpack. Do not rub the eyes, as it will cause more pain and damage – rinse, instead.

This is a summary of an excellent article, written by Ann B. Murchison, MD, for Wills Eye Hospital.  Here is the link to the full article.

Supply list for backpack:

Bottled water

Artificial tears

Protective goggles

Small disposable plastic or paper cup, and paper tape

Prescription spectacles


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