Personal defense sprays: effects and management of exposure

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


Background: Most personal defense sprays contain o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS), w-chloroacetophenone (CN), oleoresin 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 assess 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 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.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols
  • Blepharospasm / chemically induced*
  • Blepharospasm / prevention & control
  • Blepharospasm / therapy
  • Burns, Chemical / etiology*
  • Burns, Chemical / prevention & control
  • Burns, Chemical / therapy
  • Capsicum / adverse effects
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Conjunctivitis / chemically induced*
  • Conjunctivitis / prevention & control
  • Conjunctivitis / therapy
  • Contact Lenses
  • Eye Burns / chemically induced*
  • Eye Burns / prevention & control
  • Eye Burns / therapy
  • Eye Protective Devices
  • Humans
  • Irritants / adverse effects*
  • Lacrimal Apparatus Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Lacrimal Apparatus Diseases / prevention & control
  • Lacrimal Apparatus Diseases / therapy
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects*
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Salicylates / adverse effects
  • Visual Acuity / drug effects


  • Aerosols
  • Irritants
  • Plant Extracts
  • Salicylates
  • oleoresins
  • methyl salicylate