Nation’s eye doctors call for ban on rubber bullets

Rubber balls may seem harmless, but they are not. Far from there. During protests over the past two and a half weeks, rubber bullets – or similar types of “less than lethal” bullet-shaped projectiles – have seriously injured a number of protesters and journalists across the country.

Several of those people — including Linda Tirado, a freelance photographer and activist from Nashville who was hit in the eye by a bullet-shaped projectile while covering street protests in Minneapolis on May 29 — were permanently blinded. .

These incidents led the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), the nation’s leading professional organization for ophthalmologists, to issue a statement last week calling on law enforcement officials to immediately stop using rubber bullets to control or disperse crowds of protesters. The group also called on doctors, public health officials and the public to condemn the practice.

“Americans have the right to speak and assemble publicly and should be able to exercise that right without fear of blindness,” the AAO says. “You shouldn’t have to choose between your vision and your voice.”

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The very real danger posed by rubber bullets can be seen in the results of a 2017 paper published in the journal BMJ Open. For this article, researchers analyzed more than two dozen studies from around the world that had examined the evidence for injury, disability, and death associated with the use of rubber or plastic bullets, also known as impact projectiles. kinetics (KIP). Of the 1,984 people in these studies who were affected by KIPs, 53 (3%) died from their injuries and 300 (15%) suffered permanent disability, primarily blindness or removal of the spleen or part of the intestine (following abdominal surgery). injuries).

Protect your eyes

Wearing goggles and safety glasses can protect your eyes from KIPs, but as the AAO points out, they don’t provide 100% projection. (Tirado said she wore goggles shortly before her eye was injured, but they slipped off her face as she ran away from tear gas.)

If your eye is injured, say ophthalmologists, you should protect it immediately and treat the situation as a medical emergency:

    1. Don’t touch the eye
    2. Do not rub the eye
    3. stay up
    4. Place a hard shield around the eye. Even temporary eye protection, such as a paper cup or Styrofoam cup, can work in an emergency
    5. If the eye breaks, the contents inside should be retained; immediately seek emergency and ophthalmology consultation

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Although tear gas and pepper spray generally do not cause irreversible eye injuries, the damage can still be serious. If you are exposed to any of these chemical irritants, the AAO recommends the following.

In the event of exposure to tear gas:

  1. Get away from the contaminated area as quickly and safely as possible.
  2. Flush eyes with plenty of clean water or eyewash (available at most pharmacies).
  3. Remove clothing near the face.
  4. Seek fresh air.
  5. Look for higher ground (tear gas spray is heavier than air).
  6. Flash frequently (to promote tearing).
  7. Do not rub your eyes (may spread crystals in the eye).
  8. Remove contact lenses.
  9. Request an urgent ophthalmological evaluation.

If exposed to pepper spray:

  1. Do not touch the eye area. Pepper spray is oil-based. Touching the area will spread the oil.
  2. Blink to help flush eyes.
  3. Flush eyes with plenty of clean water or eyewash (available at most pharmacies). A small randomized controlled trial compared these five treatments (Maalox, 2% lidocaine gel, baby shampoo, milk, water) and found no difference in pain relief. Milk is NOT recommended for rinsing eyes; it’s not sterile.
  4. Wash the skin around the eyes with baby shampoo; it will break down the oil without irritating the eyes.

IMF: You can find the AAO’s statement calling for an end to the use of rubber bullets by law enforcement on the organization’s website.