Can tear gas cause death?


The police in Sri Lanka fired tear gas and water cannon on the protest organised in Colombo by the National People’s Power against the postponement of the local government elections.

Following the attack, twenty-eight protestors were hospitalized after falling to the ground, being trampled and hit by tear gas bullets. While one person died after being hospitalized, another protester is still being treated in hospital in critical condition.

During ‘Aragalaya’ uprising last year, the police were accused of using expired tear gas to suppress the protestors. Responding to an RTI application sent to the IGP by journalist Tharindu Jayawardena, the IGP had stated that expired tear gas had not been used on that occasion.

On this context, we at FactSeeker investigated the effects of tear gas inhalation on human body.

According to the American Lung Association and Forbes magazine, long-term health effects from tear gas are more likely if exposed for a prolonged period or to a high dose while in an enclosed area.

“In these instances, it can lead to respiratory failure and death,” said the American Lung association.

Speaking with FactSeeker, respiratory specialist Dr. Bodhika Samarasekera said that since tear gas is an air pollutant, it can cause serious complications for asthma and respiratory patients. Also, smokers should be aware of the discomfort caused by inhaling it.

“If you inhale too much tear gas, it can cause chest tightness and coughing. If the gas is ingested in excess, it can cause suffocation. Difficulty breathing may occur,” Dr. Bodhika Samarasekera said.

“There may be inflammation in the eyes, blurred vision and difficulty in swallowing.”

Especially in an enclosed space, prolonged or excessive exposure to tear gas can cause blindness, glaucoma, death from respiratory arrest, or sudden death from chemical burns of the throat and lungs, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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