Skip to main content
ER or Not: Got Sprayed With Pepper Spray

You are listening to Health Library:

ER or Not: Got Sprayed With Pepper Spray

Oct 06, 2017

Somehow, you got sprayed with pepper spray. It’s in your eye, it stings, and you’re probably feeling really uncomfortable. But is getting pepper strayed a reason to go to the ER? Emergency room physician Dr. Troy Madsen says, “probably not.” Hear what you can do at home, and when a trip to the ER might be needed for pepper spray.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Is it bad enough to go to the emergency room, or isn't it? You're listening to ER or Not, on the scope.

Interviewer: All right. Play along if you will. ER or Not with Dr. Troy Madsen from University of Utah Health. Today's situation is you got sprayed with pepper spray, so you'd got some pepper spray in the eyes, and we're just going to go ahead and pretend that it was an accident and you weren't some sort of an assailant.

Dr. Madsen: That was my first question. How did you get pepper spray in your eyes?

Interviewer: It was an accident, either it went off or you were playing with . . . I don't know, all right?

Dr. Madsen: We won't ask questions. We won't judge.

Interviewer: Pepper spray in the eyes, ER or not?

Dr. Madsen: Probably not, because anything we do in the ER you can probably do at home. Just the question is, are you going to be able to tolerate it and be able to do this? So, like you mentioned, the big concern is going to be the eyes. It can get in your face, can get on your hands. It's going to irritate it, cause it to get red and painful.

Interviewer: Oh, even beyond the eyes, it's going to be painful and annoying?

Dr. Madsen: Absolutely. It will be. But the big issue is going to be the eyes. So there's a little saying I've heard some people say, "The secret to pollution is dilution." And if you've got pollution in your eyes like pepper spray, you just have got to wash it out.

Interviewer: Or anything else.

Dr. Madsen: Anything else. The secret is dilution. You've just got to dilute it, so that's the key. So what we would do in the ER if you came in, we would try and wash your eyes out as well as possible. And we have got different tools we can use to do that. One of them, actually, we put numbing drops in the eye and put what looks like a really thick contact lens and then we hang a bottle of normal saline, just as normal sort of fluid that we can run in there, and it just washes it all out. It just sits there and washes it.

As you can probably do something very similar at home if you can get your face under the sink or something and just let water run in it. If you let it sit there for 5 to 10 minutes and you can tolerate that with lukewarm water, you're probably going to be okay and avoid coming to the ER.

Interviewer: And same with the skin? It will irritate the skin, but just rinse it off with water and there shouldn't be any other issues, really.

Dr. Madsen: There shouldn't be unless you were to have some sort of weird allergic reaction to it or something, which would be kind of a different scenario. But if it were to happen to me, you know, personally, I would get in the shower in lukewarm water, trying to run it in, trying to get my eyes up under the shower to wash it off kind of at angle as well as I could. And that's really the best thing you can do. But if you're just not going to be able to do that, you've got to get that irrigated out of there and dilute it, and we can certainly do that in the ER.

Announcer: Want The Scope delivered straight to your inbox? Enter your email address at and click "Sign Me Up" for updates of our latest episodes. The Scope Radio is a production of University of Utah Health Sciences.