Toxic carriers in pepper sprays may cause corneal erosion

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2003 Feb 1;186(3):155-62. doi: 10.1016/s0041-008x(02)00015-7.


We describe four patients who developed corneal erosion after an exposure to a pepper spray containing toxic carriers. Two of these patients were exposed to a pepper gas containing 5% oleoresin capsicum (OC) as an irritant and 92% trichlorethylene or unknown amount of dichloromethane as a carrier. One patient was exposed to a mock (containing 92% trichlorethylene as a carrier) training pepper gas without OC. The fourth patient was exposed to an unidentified Russian pepper gas spray. Two of the patients were examined by in vivo confocal microscopy to demonstrate the depth and quality of the stromal damage. To test the toxicity of the commercial tear spray, it was analyzed and test sprayed on a soft contact lens and into a plastic cup. Visual acuity was measured and the eyes were examined with a slit-lamp up to 5 months. Physical damage to a soft contact lens was visually acquired. All patients showed a long-lasting, deep corneal and conjuctival erosion, which resolved partly with medical therapy during the following weeks/months. Confocal microscopy revealed corneal nerve damage, and keratocyte activation reaching two-thirds of stroma for one patient. The spray caused serious damage to both the soft contact lens and the plastic cup. The safety of the commercially available pepper sprays should be assessed before marketing, and a list of acceptable ingredients created. The sprays should also have instructions on the use of the compound as well as on the first aid measures after the exposure. Solvents known to be toxic should not be used.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aerosols / adverse effects
  • Cornea / drug effects*
  • Cornea / pathology*
  • Drug Carriers / adverse effects*
  • Eye Burns / chemically induced*
  • Eye Burns / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methylene Chloride / adverse effects*
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects
  • Solvents / adverse effects*
  • Trichloroethylene / adverse effects*


  • Aerosols
  • Drug Carriers
  • Plant Extracts
  • Solvents
  • oleoresins
  • Trichloroethylene
  • Methylene Chloride