The Importance of Radiation Protection

Exposure to radiation can have significant and life-long or life-threatening impact on a person’s health. Since X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans are all commonly used medical machines that expose patients to radiation, medical staff must use special equipment to protect patients. Protection against radiation is crucial. The following are some key facts you must know about radiation.

medical scanning

Effects of radiation exposure

When individuals are exposed to radiation, they increase their risk of developing serious diseases, such as cancer, tumors and parathyroid adenoma. There are also other potential health risks. For example, if a person’s reproductive organs are exposed to radiation, it can cause genetic mutations. This may not simply effect the person exposes; offspring can inherit genetic mutations caused by their parent’s exposure to radiation.

In some cases, individuals are exposed to radiation when they’re being treated for cancer. Overexposure to radiation during radiation therapy may damage their tissue.

Causes of harmful levels of radiation exposure

Individuals who are required to take certain medical tests or treatments may be at risk of exposure to radiation, but those tests do not guarantee exposure to harmful levels of radiation. Harmful exposure can occur if protective equipment is damaged or incorrectly placed. In other cases, individuals may be exposed to excessive amounts of radiation if they are required to repeat tests or if tests with higher radiation levels are used unnecessarily. Patients who are being treated for cancer may also be exposed to excessive amounts of radiation during the treatment process.  Individuals who are exposed to high levels of radiation may suffer from radiation overdose.

How can patients be protected from exposure to radiation?

Medical staff use special medical equipment to reduce or eliminate exposure to harmful levels of exposure. There are a number of items specifically designed to protect different parts of the human body.

A lead apron is placed over a person and protects the torso and reproductive organs from exposure to radiation. Lead aprons are designed to protect individuals who will be at least three feet away from the source of the radiation. As much as 95% of the radiation a person is exposed to is blocked when a person wears a lead apron.

Thyroid shields are used to protect the thyroid from unnecessary exposure. Medical staff may also position lead shields, lead glass, patient shields, and scatter drapes to reduce exposure to radiation. Since dentists also use X-rays as a diagnostic tool, dental patients may be required to wear a lead apron, lead poncho, or lead cape to protect them from radiation.

Do medical staff need to wear protective equipment?

Medical personnel are also at risk when they are present during procedures that expose patients to radiation. Their exposure is significantly reduced by wearing protective equipment. It’s common for medical personnel to wear lead aprons when present during X-rays or other procedures, such as MRIs. Medical personnel may also wear lead gloves to protect their hands from exposure.

Other protective equipment that may be used includes lead masks, which protect the front and sides of a person’s head, and lead shields, which are portable barriers that can be positioned between people and the equipment emitting the radiation.

Lead glasses are also available. These help ensure that a person’s eyes are not damaged through exposure to radiation.

Shielding and safety requirements

Medical personnel are expected to follow safety guidelines to ensure that all medical equipment is stored and used properly. It is typical for medical staff to be expected to perform regular inspections in order to ensure faulty equipment is not in use.

The amount of protection individuals need depends on whether they will be directly or indirectly exposed to the radiation. Medical equipment that uses radiation emits a beam. Anyone who will be directly exposed to that beam needs a higher amount of protection and must wear lead shielding that’s at least 0.5 mm thick.

Individuals who are present in a room but not directly in the path of the radiation beam may still be affected by scattered radiation and need to wear lead shielding that’s no less than 0.25 mm thick.

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