Thursday, March 17, 2011

How to Protect Against Radiation Exposure

Liz T. Jones

What is radiation? The kind of radiation that is used in medical procedures typically consists of x-rays, which are photons emitted from unstable atoms, and gamma rays, used in PET scans. In fact, naturally occurring photons and charged particles are all around all the time and even exist inside the human body. They come from space, from the atmosphere, the water and from the earth itself. One of the most concentrated earthbound sources is uranium. Nuclear medicine simply harnesses this natural phenomenon for use in diagnosis and treatment.

Side Effects
Women who are or may be pregnant or breastfeeding need to be especially careful. Fetuses are more susceptible to damage from radioactivity than adults. The use of an x-ray apron manufactured especially to block harmful radiation can minimize this risk. Males may also experience a lessening of their sperm production if exposed to enough radiation. This reduction could take years to return to normal. High doses could cause this reduction to be permanent. An x-ray apron can reduce this risk when used properly.

Besides fertility risks, radiation can cause cancer. Even though when properly used it can destroy cancer cells in the body, improper exposure can have the opposite effect.

Protective Lead Apron and Vest
The simplest solution in preventing undue exposure from radioactivity to patients, medical personnel and others who work with radioactive materials involves the proper use of lead aprons and vests. The vests can also come equipped with a thyroid collar to protect the thyroid glands in the neck. Since lead is an especially dense material, it can stop most charged particles, depending on the thickness used in the vests and aprons.

Other High-Risk Occupations
Besides medicine, the nuclear power industry, as well as manufacturing and development of isotopes used in nuclear medicine and research, are all areas where workers can be exposed to unacceptable doses of radiation. Uranium miners are at risk from excess exposure since uranium is the source of the radioactive isotopes used in nuclear medicine and nuclear power plants. Again, the proper wearing of an x-ray apron and/or lead vest can reduce to acceptable levels the dosage of radioactivity experienced by the wearer.

X-ray aprons and lead vests are essential tools for people who are exposed to radiation as an occupational hazard, such as nuclear medicine, mining and nuclear power plants in particular. The lead absorbs the harmful particles, therefore preventing harm to its wearer.

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