Damage to the eyes may be more serious than the effects on the skin. Gases and even liquids may irritate the eyes only mildly at first, or there may be no pain at all. In a few hours your eyes may become painful, inflamed, and sensitive to light. Tears and severe pain will follow, with possible permanent injury.
If inhaled into the lungs, blister agents will inflame the throat and windpipe, producing a harsh cough. In a prolonged exposure, this may result in pneumonia and death. Quick detection of blister agents and prompt protection against entry into the eyes, lungs, or skin is vital.
Incapacitating agents, or psychochemical agents, can cause mental symptoms. They may also produce physical symptoms such as staggering gait, dizziness, and blurred vision. Some of these agents cause fainting spells and others cause severe muscle weakness. The mental symptoms often resemble alcoholic drunkenness; for example, individuals may act silly, giggle, or become angry and belligerent similar to a "fighting drunk." Incapacitating agents can also cause hallucinations. Many of these incapacitating gases prevent sleep, causing some people to stay awake for days and be mentally confused for the entire period. These agents do not kill, but they can make a person noneffective. Many of them do not produce effects until several hours after inhalation. The effects of incapacitating agents can last from 8 hours to 4 days.
Blood agents or cyanogens get their name from the action they have on your blood. If you inhale these agents, your blood cannot furnish enough oxygen to your body's cells. As a result, body tissues suffocate and die. Large amounts of blood agents produce rapid breathing and violent convulsions; mild exposure may produce headache, dizziness, and nausea. Blood agents will cause either a speedy death or there will be a complete recovery within a few hours. Like the nerve agents, blood agents may be quick killers. Speed in putting on a mask is essential.
The lungs are the target for choking agents. Choking agents do not harm your skin or digestive system but they will actually choke an unprotected person. If large amounts enter the lungs, they will become filled with fluid and death may result from lack of oxygen. Your protective mask gives you complete protection against all choking agents. The instant you suspect the presence of a chemical agent, carry out these three steps as quickly as possible.
1. Hold your breath; not inhaling before
2. Put on your protective mask
3. Clear your mask (explained later in this chapter)
Vomiting and tear agents, known as "riot control agents," can produce unpleasant symptoms that usually last for a short time period. When properly used, these agents do not cause death. They are used to control riots, to force people out of buildings, and to capture enemy forces without injury. These agents are also often used for training purposes.
Inhaling vomiting agents (sternutators) can make you ill. A sense of fullness in the nose, severe headache, intense burning in the throat, and tightness and pain in the chest are the general symptoms. These symptoms are followed by uncontrollable coughing, violent sneezing, nausea, and vomiting.
The symptoms may be delayed for several minutes. If you should inhale a vomiting agent before putting on your protective mask, you might become ill later. You must wear your protective mask as long as the agent is present. Pull it away from your chin during actual vomiting, but do not take it off The mask offers adequate protection against vomiting agents. The effects of vomiting agents will usually disappear in 20 minutes to 2 hours.
Tear agents, or lacrimators, are the least toxic of the six groups of chemical agents. These agents may be used in civil riots to disperse the crowds or to squelch prison riots. The vapors of tear agents can produce a sharp, irritating pain in the eyes resulting in an abundant flow of tears. There is no permanent damage to the eyes and the effects wear off quickly. For a short period, you will not be able to see clearly. The protective mask, used before tear agents get into your eyes, will give complete protection. Some of the new tear agents can cause runny noses, severe chest pains, nausea, and vomiting. 13-34