How does tear gas affect your lungs? | Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos Johns Hopkins Medicine explains

Contributor: Brian H. Waters (@Brianhwaters)

As thousands of people participate in protests for social justice reform around the world, another critical conversation has surfaced surrounding tear gas and its affects on the respiratory system.

In reference to the unjust deaths of #GeorgeFloyd, #AhmaudArbery and #BreonnaTaylor, protestors are chanting for change in the midst of a pandemic, while also being sprayed by law enforcers with tear gas.

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Courtesy: Johns Hopkins Medicine

Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos of Johns Hopkins Medicine explains the affects of the chemical weapon and methods of prevention to ensure safety.

“As a lung doctor.. it’s good to see a lot of the protestors wear masks..recognizing the pandemic is still present, but those masks are not going to prevent the particles of tear gas from getting in their respiratory system,” said Galiatsatos.

According to the CDC, riot control agents, often referred to as tear gas, are chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin.


No one is exempt from tear gas, whether you are a participant or a journalist reporting the news. One journalist who was reporting from a sidewalk while covering the protests shared his experience about the uncontrollable burning.

It’s a burning that you cannot control. It’s not only in your eyes. I inhaled the tear gas and could not breathe. You’re gasping for your breath, and no matter what you do, you’re still choking.

Galiatsatos notes the distance between a person and the tear gas can determine the short-long term effects. For example, some symptoms may include a cough, shortness of breath and watery eyes. Long-term effects of tear gas are determined by a person’s pre-existing health conditions.

These symptoms serve as the body’s defense mechanism to keep the chemical from entering your blood stream. 

The combination of COVID-19 and tear gas can affect the respiratory system, but recovery is still attainable.

“At this moment, we need to come together for a moral and ethical cause. I would recommend [to] keep in mind we are still in a pandemic.”

Galiatsatos recommends these safety precautions to protestors:

  • Always wear a face mask
  • Take hand sanitizer with you to keep your hands clean
  • Remain socially distant as much as possible
  • Use signs to keep voice tone at a moderate level

If you would like to connect with Dr. Galiatsatos, please reach out to him via twitter @panagis21.

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