At least two children were treated and released for tear gas exposure Sunday after protests in Ferguson turned violent, according a spokeswoman at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
One adult has also been treated at Christian Hospital, a spokesman said.
Dr. Doug Carlson, who works in the ER at Children’s, said he has never treated tear gas exposure before but has treated children exposed to pepper spray, which can cause similar symptoms.
“It’s debilitatingly, extraordinarily painful,” Carlson said. But most exposure does not cause tissue damage. “If you are exposed, most of the time, (the pain) lasts for a few hours.”
Immediately get out of the area, he said.
“If you go to the ER, we would clean you off, get you in clean clothes, rinse you off and rinse out your eyes.”
He has seen pictures of people rinsing their eyes with milk, but there is no evidence that it helps or works better than water, he said.
In rare instances, when a person has an underlying lung disease, exposure to tear gas can lead to serious illness, he said. It can trigger asthma in rare cases, as well.
“If you inhale it directly right where it is going off, it can lead to short term significant illness … It can cause irritation down into the lungs,” Carlson said.
An adult patient once told him that tear gas exposure is the most painful thing he’s ever experienced.
Carlson said the protests, while mostly peaceful, have not been predictable, and it’s best not have children near them.
“You’re not in control of the other people, if they start behaving poorly, if the police believe they need to intervene,” he said.
His concerns were echoed by Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann, a pediatrician who also works in the Children’s ER and co-hosts our monthly parent chats on stltoday.com.
“I think it is fabulous to involve children in peaceful protests, but given the violence that has erupted in Ferguson and the use of tear gas, I think the risks outweigh the benefits for children,” she said. “I would be very concerned about any child with a history of asthma” who has been exposed, she said.
Many children have attended protests and rallies during the day, which have been peaceful and free of the violence that has erupted at night.
“Fortunately, it’s not so often in the U.S. that tear gas is used,” Carlson said.
Police have released tear gas several of the nights during the protests to disperse crowds. Amnesty International has said it is sending its human rights teams for the first time within the United States to monitor and assist the protesters in Ferguson.