How Long Does Pepper Spray Last in Eyes

Last updated: October 1, 2023


Pepper spray is a widely used self-defense tool that can effectively incapacitate an attacker. However, when it comes into contact with the eyes, it can cause intense pain and temporary vision impairment.

If you have ever wondered, “How long does pepper spray last in eyes?” or if you have experienced pepper spray exposure yourself, this article will provide you with all the information you need. We will explore the effects of pepper spray on the eyes, the duration of its impact, and the recommended treatments for alleviating its effects. So, let’s dive in and understand more about this powerful non-lethal weapon.

How Pepper Spray Works

Pepper spray, also known as OC spray (oleoresin capsicum), is a non-lethal chemical compound derived from hot peppers. It contains capsaicin, the active ingredient responsible for its potent effects. 

When pepper spray is sprayed, it creates a fine mist that irritates the eyes, nose, and skin of the person it comes in contact with. Its primary purpose is to incapacitate an attacker temporarily, allowing the victim to escape from a dangerous situation.

Effects of Pepper Spray on the Eyes

When pepper spray comes into contact with the eyes, it causes immediate and intense irritation. The capsaicin in pepper spray activates pain receptors in the eyes, leading to symptoms such as:

  • Burning sensation: The eyes feel like they are on fire, causing extreme discomfort.

  • Tearing: Excessive tearing is a natural response to the irritation caused by pepper spray.

  • Redness: The eyes become bloodshot due to increased blood flow to the area.

  • Swelling: The eyelids may swell, further exacerbating the discomfort.

  • Blurred vision: Vision becomes blurry, making it difficult to see clearly.

  • Sensitivity to light: The eyes become more sensitive to light, causing discomfort in bright environments.

  • Involuntary closure: The eyes may involuntarily shut or experience difficulty in keeping them open.

How Long Does Pepper Spray Last in Eyes?

The duration of pepper spray’s effects on the eyes can vary depending on several factors. On average, the symptoms tend to last for approximately 30 minutes to an hour. However, it is important to note that individual experiences may vary. Some individuals may recover more quickly, while others may experience lingering effects for longer periods.

It is crucial to understand that the effects of pepper spray are temporary, and they will gradually subside with time. Most individuals will start to feel relief within the first hour after exposure. However, it is not uncommon for residual effects, such as mild discomfort and sensitivity, to persist for a few hours or even up to 24 hours in some cases.

Factors Affecting the Duration of Pepper Spray Effects

Several factors can influence how long the effects of pepper spray last in the eyes. Understanding these factors can help you estimate the duration of discomfort and plan accordingly. The following are some key factors:

  • Concentration of capsaicin: The higher the concentration of capsaicin in the pepper spray, the more intense and longer-lasting the effects are likely to be.

  • Amount of exposure: The duration of exposure to pepper spray plays a role in determining how long the effects will last. Longer exposures tend to result in prolonged discomfort.

  • Individual sensitivity: People vary in their sensitivity to pepper spray. Some individuals may be more resilient and recover more quickly, while others may experience more prolonged effects.

  • Eye protection: Wearing protective eyewear, such as goggles or glasses, can help reduce the duration of pepper spray effects by minimizing direct contact with the eyes.

  • Proper decontamination: Prompt and thorough decontamination of the affected area can help alleviate the effects of pepper spray and potentially shorten the recovery time.

Treatment for Pepper Spray Exposure

If you find yourself exposed to pepper spray, it is essential to take immediate action to alleviate the discomfort and promote recovery. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Move to fresh air: If possible, move away from the source of the pepper spray to an area with fresh air. This will help reduce further exposure.

  • Keep your eyes open: While it may be tempting to shut your eyes tightly, try to keep them open to facilitate flushing out the pepper spray.

  • Flush with water: Rinse your eyes gently with clean, cool water for at least 15 minutes. This helps wash away the pepper spray and provides relief.

  • Avoid rubbing your eyes: Rubbing your eyes can worsen the irritation. Instead, let the water flow over your eyes and flush out the irritant.

  • Remove contact lenses: If you wear contact lenses, remove them to ensure proper rinsing of your eyes. You can clean and disinfect your lenses afterward.

  • Seek medical attention: If your symptoms persist or worsen after initial treatment, it is advisable to seek medical attention. A healthcare professional can provide further guidance and recommend appropriate remedies.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can pepper spray cause permanent eye damage?

Pepper spray exposure typically does not cause permanent eye damage. However, it can result in temporary vision impairment and discomfort. The effects of pepper spray on the eyes are usually transient and resolve within a few hours or up to 24 hours in some cases. It is essential to treat the exposure promptly and seek medical attention if symptoms persist or worsen.

2. How should I clean my eyes after pepper spray exposure?

To clean your eyes after pepper spray exposure, follow these steps:

  • Move to an area with fresh air.

  • Keep your eyes open and flush them gently with clean, cool water for at least 15 minutes.

  • Avoid rubbing your eyes; instead, let the water flow over them.

  • Remove contact lenses, if applicable, before rinsing your eyes.

  • Seek medical attention if symptoms persist or worsen.

3. Can pepper spray affect contact lens wearers?

Yes, pepper spray can affect contact lens wearers. It is advisable to remove contact lenses if exposed to pepper spray to ensure proper rinsing and avoid further irritation. After rinsing your eyes, you can clean and disinfect your contact lenses before wearing them again. If discomfort persists, consult your eye care professional.

4. What are the potential long-term effects of pepper spray exposure?

Pepper spray exposure is typically associated with temporary effects that subside within a short period. However, in rare cases, individuals may experience lingering symptoms such as mild discomfort, sensitivity to light, or blurry vision for up to 24 hours. If you have concerns about your specific situation, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional.

5. How long does the burning sensation last after pepper spray exposure?

The burning sensation caused by pepper spray exposure generally lasts for approximately 30 minutes to an hour. However, individual experiences may vary. Prompt decontamination and rinsing of the eyes can help alleviate the burning sensation and promote faster recovery.


Pepper spray causes pain and vision impairment, but its effects on the eyes are temporary and typically last a few hours. To recover faster, flush your eyes with water, seek fresh air, and remove contact lenses if needed. If symptoms persist, consult a healthcare professional. Use pepper spray responsibly and within the law.

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