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Getting sprayed with bear spray is an extremely unpleasant experience – and knowing what to do if sprayed by bear mace is vital for preventing unnecessary and prolonged pain. Read on to learn the various steps you can take after getting sprayed to get out a very nasty predicament.
You’ll experience a number of symptoms after coming into contact with bear mace. If it gets to your eyes, they will be forced shut, since the strong burning sensation will prevent them from opening. If you get it on your skin, you’ll experience inflammation.
Breathing in the spray cloud will restrict your breathing, something that can be especially dangerous for asthma patients. These extreme side effects are why you should be extra vigilant when using any pepper spray product.
Does Water Help?
To a certain extent, yes, but not on its own, and it definitely won’t provide any lasting relief. This is due to the fact that oleoresin capsicum, a derivative ingredient in bear deterrent, is an oil – and oil and water do not mix well. The non-polar oil molecules and polar water molecules don’t get along, making it difficult to wash the spray off with just water.
Tips For Effective Pain Relief
- Get out of the sprayed area: Your first course of action should be to leave the area where the accidental spraying occurred immediately, so as to avoid any further ingestion / inhalation / contact with the spray, to minimize the impact. Once you’re clear, breath in the fresh air, or ask someone else to blow fresh air on you using a fan.
- Above everything else, avoid touching the affected area. Since pepper spray is oil-based, you can easily spread it to the unaffected parts of your body by merely touching it.
- Take off your contact lenses immediately, if you got sprayed on while wearing them. It’s a smart idea to get someone who hasn’t been sprayed on to do it, since your own hands may have gotten some spray on them that could make the pain worse.
- Flush your eyes with cold water: As mentioned before, it won’t provide lasting relief, but it is a good place to start – do this for about 15 minutes.
- Blink quickly to get tears in your eyes; turning on the waterworks may help in flushing out some of the residue from your eyes.
- Use milk to alleviate the burning – milk won’t get rid of the oil OC residue, but it will definitely reduce some of its bite. Thanks to a dairy fat present in milk, it can stop capsaicin’s heat producing ability. Use a large bowl filled with cold whole milk, and soak yourself with it. If you don’t have any milk at hand, you can use any other cold dairy item. Alternately, a spray bottle can be used to rinse your eyes with it if a bowl isn’t available.
- Use a cleansing solution e.g. dish soap, shampoo or hand soap, along with water, to rinse the affected area. Create a mixture of the cleansing agent and water in the ratio of 1:3. From personal experience, I’d suggest using at least 4 liters of water, since it took me around a dozen washes to get the OC out of my eyes, when I accidentally sprayed the bear mace downwind. A towel dipped in the mixture could be used to pat and clean the affected area.
- To clean your eyes, it is better to use a ‘no tears’ baby shampoo for the cleansing agent in the mixture, since it would get rid of the OC without causing any irritation of its own. Dip your face into a large bowl of the mixture for about twenty seconds. Do this around a dozen times, changing the mixture in the bowl each time, otherwise you’d only be soaking your face with a solution that would contain more and more capsaicin with each dip!
- Liquid Antacid solution: L.A.W. is a solution that contains water and liquid antacid in a 1:1 ratio, and this is what EMTs used to treat a pepper spray related incident in the field. Note that aluminum or magnesium hydroxide based antacids are the only ones used, not antacids based on simethicone. While it is used by EMTs to neutralize the pepper spray, it shouldn’t be used without prior experience.
- Use some saline solution: Saline solution flushes out any bear deterrent traces that remain in your eyes, once the initial burning feeling has been dealt with. Remember to keep blinking while you apply the saline to aid in the removal of any residual OC.
- Don’t use any creams or lotions: They contain oil which would only aggravate your condition by restricting the spray residue to your skin.
- Do not forget to seal all your contaminated garments in a plastic bag, so as to avoid any further inconvenience, until they can be decontaminated.
Emergency medical technicians normally keep some sort of wipes or solution close at hand to help people who have been exposed to any kind of pepper spray. If you plan to take a bear spray can into the woods (as you should), you should also buy some medicated wipes designed for cleansing pepper-sprayed skin as a backup. In fact, you can usually get them from the same store where you buy the bear deterrent.
Carrying bear repellent with you on cam ping / hiking trips into the wild is absolutely necessary, but given its nature, it is equally vital that you know what to do if sprayed by bear spray. Hopefully, you will now have some insight into what you do to minimize the unpleasant side effects of accidental exposure to the product.
Just bear in mind that many of these accidents can be avoided simply by treating bear mace with the respect it deserves: consider it a dangerous object just as you would a firearm or melee weapon.
However, if you do get sprayed upon, e simplest course of action to take is to:
- Leave the affected area
- Remove affected clothing (if possible).
- Remove contact lenses (if you have them on).
- Flush your face with cold water for 15 minutes.
- Use a workable cleansing solution for your eyes, face and skin (several have been described above).
- Be prepared for at least a couple of days of inconvenience.
Feel free to leave any queries you’ve got in the comments section below.