Radiation exposure occurs when an individual comes into contact with radiation because of a bomb, proximity to a radiological exposure device or another type of accident. Exposure to radiation can lead to various health consequences. Acute radiation exposure, for example, can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and headache. Over time, however, people who have been exposed to radiation may also develop long-term effects, such as cancer.
About Radioactive Iodine
One type of radiation exposure that poses specific concerns is exposure to radioactive iodine, an isotope of iodine that may be released into the air after a nuclear or radiological event. This radioactive isotope is also used in the treatment of some thyroid conditions. Exposure to radioactive iodine may increase the risk of thyroid cancer and cause other complications, especially for pregnant women and young children. In fact, the risks associated with radioactive iodine are so severe that patients treated with this substance are instructed to stay away from other people until the radiation leaves their system.
Preventing Damage Associated With Radioactive Iodine
In some cases, radioactive iodine is administered to an individual on purpose. However, in other cases, exposure to this type of radiation may be accidental. When an individual becomes aware that he or she is being exposed to this type of radiation unintentionally, taking steps to minimize the damage is essential. Fortunately, a different form of iodine, potassium iodide, has the ability to mitigate the effects of radioactive iodine in the body.
Potassium iodide is a stable salt of iodine. The thyroid, which is the primary organ damaged by exposure to radioactive iodine, cannot discriminate between radioactive iodine and potassium iodide. Thus, if both forms of iodine are introduced into the system, the thyroid gland will absorb them both. An individual who knows that he or she is being exposed to radioactive iodine can take potassium iodide in hopes of blocking the absorption of radioactive iodine and decreasing the associated damage.
Limits of Potassium Iodide
Potassium iodide does not provide complete protection from radioactive iodine. The degree of protection this measure can provide depends on the level of exposure and the amount of time that has passed before the individual receives treatment. For best results, potassium iodide should be taken as soon as possible when an individual is exposed to radioactive iodine.
In addition, although potassium iodide may be able to help protect the thyroid from damage associated with radioactive iodine exposure, it cannot protect the rest of the body. Radioactive iodine can still travel to other organ systems and cause injury. Plus, potassium iodide is not able to protect the body from exposure to other types of radiation. Furthermore, because of the health risks associated with the consumption of potassium iodide, people should not take potassium iodide unless they have been directed to do so by emergency management or public health officials.
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