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Tear Gas Health Effects May Last Weeks

Researchers worry that nearby residents may suffer harm too

THURSDAY, Sept. 11, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Tear gas can cause health problems that may last for weeks, and can also impact a wider area than targeted, two new studies find.

In one study, Turkish researchers surveyed 546 people in Turkey who inhaled tear gas during public protests in June 2013. They found that 80 percent reported a lasting cough, 70 percent reported breathing problems, 45 percent, phlegm production and 43 percent, chest pain.

Cough and chest pain lasted a median of 15 days.

The second study included 105 people who lived and worked near the site of repeated protests in Turkey during the summer of 2013. Eighty-nine percent reported a lasting cough and 76 percent reported breathlessness. Lung function tests showed that about one-fifth of the study participants had some degree of airway obstruction.

Both studies were scheduled for presentation Sept. 10 at a European Respiratory Society meeting in Munich, Germany.

"These results are significant as they contradict the previous assumptions about the effects of tear gas. Tear gas is not classified as a chemical weapon, but is not allowed to be used between two nations in war situations," Dr. Eda Uslu, of the Turkish Thoracic Society, said in a European Lung Foundation news release.

"Our findings suggest that people who live and work close to protests are also seeing harmful effects on the lungs from the use of this gas," Uslu said. "We have also found that the effect on the protesters lasts longer than we previously thought. The use of tear gas should be banned globally to prevent any further damage to health."

Studies presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about tear gas.

SOURCE: European Lung Foundation, news release, Sept. 8, 2014
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