How do tear gas affect children?

While morality and the need for the use of the riot control agent are certainly a topic of debate, others also worry about the effects that this substance might have on young people migrant children who were seen in the fray.

According to experts, tear gas is not exactly what you believe, but it can actually have a dangerous and lasting effect on children.

What is tear gas? Although there are a few different compounds that can be used for this purpose, the extremely common compound is called chlorobenzylidènemalononitrileor "CS."

Tear gases are often thought to be irritating, such as the fumes of an onion in the eyes or pepper in the nose. Recent medical research has proved the opposite, says Sven Eric Jordt, Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at Duke University, specializing in sensory mechanisms.

"We discovered that the chemical causes pain by activating the pain receptors," says Jordt. I would consider them as neurotoxic agents that act selectively and very powerfully on painful nerves. "

Children are particularly vulnerable to its effects

The Centers for Disease Control report that tear gas can cause blurred vision, burning and swelling of the nose, coughing, choking, shortness of breath and burning of the skin, as well as other side effects.

According to the CDC, most of these effects disappear after 15 to 30 minutes, if the person is decontaminated.

This is a key step, as Jordt points out that the tear gas is not a gas at all, but rather a solid one; a powder that must be heated and mixed with a solvent.

"That's why they can get deposited on skin, hair, eyes and clothes," he says. "Yes [people] are not decontaminated, this can cause injury. "

Children are at an even greater risk of getting hurt – both at the time of exposure and later.

"Children are particularly at risk because tear gas is heavier than air," said Jordt. "It is present at higher concentrations near the ground, and children, being shorter, are exposed to higher concentrations, and because their lungs are smaller, they are more likely to get hurt when they are injured. inhale tear gas. "

A migrant girl from Honduras who is part of a caravan of thousands of people from Central America en route to the United States is crying after fleeing tear gas fired by US border control near the wall border between the United States and Mexico, in Tijuana, Mexico.

This affects their long-term health

The American Academy of Pediatrics echoed these reasons in a statement condemning the use of tear gas on migrant families.

"The use of tear gas on children – including infants and toddlers in diapers – goes against evidence-based recommendations and threatens their health in the short and long term ", reads in the statement written by the president of the AAP, Colleen A. Kraft.

"Children are particularly vulnerable to the physiological effects of chemical agents.The small size of the child, its more frequent number of breaths per minute and its limited response to cardiovascular stress compared to adults amplify the harmful effects of chemicals. agents such as tear gas. "

The AAP also alludes to possible psychological trauma, as the children who arrived at the border "made a harrowing journey".

"We have to make every effort not to traumatize them again," writes Kraft.

And these long-term effects are serious

In addition to burns and breathing problems immediately after the fact, the researchers recognized several potential long-term health risks for people exposed to tear gas.

"In many cases, exposed people have been hospitalized because of lung damage that takes a long time to heal, days or weeks," says Jordt.

In 2012, researchers observed the health of US Army recruits during their basic training portion of riot control. They discovered that those who had been exposed to the chemical CS "had a significantly higher risk of being diagnosed with an IRA. [acute respiratory illnesses] following the exposure "only those who have not yet been exposed to the chemical.
Other studies focusing on children have particularly highlighted links between tear gas exposure and severe respiratory problems. A 1972 study documented the health of an infant exposed to tear gas, who subsequently developed a persistent case of pneumonitis, an inflammation of the lung walls.

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