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VERIFY: Is it safe to wear contacts to a protest or can tear gas cause blindness?

The Verify team looked into online rumors that toxic fumes like tear gas can cause blindness if people wear contacts. Our experts say this is false.

WASHINGTON — Question:

Can toxic fumes like tear gas cause blindness if people are wearing contacts? 

Answer:

No. Contacts could soak in the fumes, or act as a reservoir for these fumes, which could cause increased pain and possible damage if kept on the eye for a long period of time. However, there is no evidence that it could cause blindness. 

Source:

Dr. Lyndon Jones, Centre For Ocular Research and Education at the University of Waterloo. 

Dr. Ravi Goel, American Academy of Ophthalmology

Process:

After a week of protests, over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, there have been a number of social media rumors popping up as a result. Some on social media have started to make a pretty dramatic claim about the effects of tear gas. 

"Do not wear contacts to any protest," wrote one person on Twitter. "When exposed with tear gas, your contacts will burn and glue to your eye, causing you to become permanently blind." 

The claim is certainly enough to scare those who might be heading to a protest. 

To find the truth, the Verify team reached out to Dr. Lyndon Jones, The Director of the Centre for Ocular Research and Education at the University of Waterloo. 

He addressed the rumor head-on.

"Contact lenses don’t get glued to your eye," he said. "That’s actually physically impossible. There’s always a layer of tears behind the lens. It might feel that’s the case because it’s so excruciatingly painful."

Jones explained that there are different types of gas that might be used at a protest. Tear gas, which is man-made, is likely the most well-known of the substances, but it's not the only one being used. 

RELATED: U.S. Park Police said they didn't fire tear gas Monday; here's what was shot at protesters

During Washington, D.C. protests, reporter Nathan Baca found a canister, labeled as "Oleoresins Capiscum," or OC for short. Johnson said that this is a scientific name for pepper spray, which is a natural substance. 

"Pepper Spray, the oil-based one, could potentially be soaked up by the contact lens and then be held against the eye," Johnson said. "So that might make a difference."

Dr. Ravi Goel, the Spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, agreed, saying that these lenses could act as a "reservoir," holding in the fumes. He said that contact lenses can cause serious damage, if left in for a long period of time, after tear gas is released. 

"It can be a liability," he said. "If there's a gas or physical trauma." 

So we can verify, wearing contacts when hit with tear bad will not cause blindness. However, it could keep the fumes in your eye longer and cause more irritation. 

For that reason, it might be a good idea to bring goggles to cover your eyes, or simply wear glasses, if there's a chance of facing these fumes.

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