Too much of exposure to radiation can lead to radiation sickness. The severity of the condition, depends upon the amount of exposure to the ions that constitute radiation. This article will help you understand about how to treat radiation sickness and more.
Our body is exposed to minor radiation almost everyday in the form of microwaves, light, radio waves etc. But these forms of radiation are not harmful to us as they are non-ionizing in nature and cannot damage our body tissues. On the other hand, it is the ionizing radiation that should be a cause of concern as it can cause severe damage to the tissues of the body. The human body can be exposed to such radiations in the form of x-rays, bombardment, radiation therapy, radiation leakage from an nuclear plant, like the one Japan is suffering from right now.
Although x-rays and CT scans can affect the human body, it usually doesn’t, because the amount of exposure is very minute. The amount of radiation absorbed by the body is measured in terms of gray (Gy) scale. Radiation below 0.1 Gy is considered to be safe, which is usually the same amount of radiation absorbed via x-rays and CT scans. It is only when a person absorbs more than 1 Gy of radiation, that he or she starts experiencing the signs and symptoms of radiation sickness which are mentioned as follows.
Symptoms of Radiation Sickness
As mentioned earlier, the severity of the symptoms and sickness depends upon the amount of exposure one’s body has received to the radiation. Based on that, you can classify the radiation sickness to mild, moderate, severe and extremely serious. Mentioned below are the severity of radiation sickness categorized by the amount of radiation exposure.
- Mild radiation sickness: 1-2 Gy, wherein symptoms like nausea and vomiting may occur within 6 hours of exposure
- Moderate radiation sickness: 2-6 Gy, wherein symptoms like nausea and vomiting may occur within 2 hours. One may also have high fever and diarrhea within 3-8 hours and headache within 24 hours of radiation exposure
- Severe radiation sickness: 6-8 Gy, wherein nausea, fever and vomiting occur immediately within 1 hour, followed by diarrhea and headache within 3-4 hours of radiation exposure
- Extreme radiation sickness: 8-10 Gy or more, wherein symptoms like nausea and vomiting occur within 10 minutes! Other symptoms like fever, headache and diarrhea also occur within the next 1 hour
The aforementioned were the immediate symptoms of radiation sickness which can be observed within the first day of radiation exposure. Apart from these, there are also some signs and symptoms of this condition which can appear later within 1-4 weeks. These are,
- Low blood pressure
- Blood in vomit and stool
- Hair loss and bald patches
- Slow healing of wounds and infections
The point to be kept in mind is that these symptoms will show immediately if the radiation exposure is very severe, otherwise, these can be seen within 1-4 weeks from the radiation exposure.
Treatment and Possible Cures for Radiation Sickness
The signs and symptoms of radiation sickness are something that are not hard to identify. If you know that the reason why you may have been experiencing these signs and symptoms is because of a known exposure to radiation, then get in touch with a healthcare specialist as soon as possible. Your doctor will conduct various tests and examinations to check the amount of radiation you have been exposed to, or if treatment would even prove to be of help as in case of extreme radiation exposure, treatment is of no use and the person may actually die.
Even if the person survives, there are high chances that he or she might suffer from cancer in the future. Radiation sickness can actually destroy the entire lining of cells present in the intestinal tract and the bone marrow. Therefore, in order to know the amount of radiation absorption, the doctors conduct various tests including the blood tests, to determine the damage to the bone marrow, and the changes in the DNA of the blood cells. A blood test also helps in keeping a track of the rise and drop of white blood cells fighting the condition. It would also help your treatment if you could also inform them about the source and the type of radiation you are exposed to.
As mentioned earlier, the treatment of radiation sickness depends upon various factors like the type of radiation exposure, the degree of radiation exposure and the amount of damage it has done to the person. Even after survival, most of the people have chances to suffer from cancer later on in their life along with the constant fear and anxiety towards radiation exposure in the future. Mentioned below are the various treatment approaches when it comes to treating the damage.
First Aid Treatment for Decontamination
Before starting the treatment of a person suffering from radiation poisoning, you must take all the necessary measures to protect yourself. This includes steps like wearing a protective gear and getting away from the source of contamination as soon as possible. Mentioned below are the steps for first aid support to the patient.
- Check, if the person is breathing at the normal rate and if the pulse rate is ok.
- You must remove the person’s clothes as soon as possible and store them in a sealed container so that the contamination doesn’t spread. It is said that this step eliminates about 90% of the external contamination.
- The next step would be to wash the entire body with soap and water and dry it well using a soft and clean cloth.
Treatment to Reduce Internal Contamination
After removing the clothes and bathing, 90% of the external contamination is taken care of. Therefore, the next step would be to minimize the internal damage. However the treatment would solely depend upon the type of radiation one has been exposed to. The treatment may include the following.
This works if you have been exposed to radioactive iodine also known as radioiodine. The mechanism of how it works is this. The thyroid present in the body tends to absorb all the iodine present in the body. Which is why it will also absorb the radioiodine. By treating the contamination by potassium iodide, which is a nonradioactive form of iodine, the thyroid will absorb potassium iodide instead of radioiodide.
DTPA stands for ‘Diethylenetriamine Pentaacetic Acid’ which helps in binding the metal present in the body. Using this acid as a treatment option actually helps binding the radioactive elements in the body bind together so that they can come out of the body through urine. This helps in reducing the amount of radiation absorbed in the body.
This dye works in a very similar way like DTPA. It also helps binding the radioactive elements and then excretes them through the stool thereby reducing the amount of radioactive substances present in the body.
Apart from the aforementioned medications, your doctor may also prescribe some medications and drugs to control the signs and symptoms that may be bothering you. There will be antibiotics prescribed for infections and fever. Painkillers will help reduce the headaches. And medicines to control diarrhea, nausea and vomiting will also help. Your doctor would also take necessary steps to keep you well hydrated as the body has lost a lot of fluids through vomiting and diarrhea.
The aforementioned are some of the most well-known ways when it comes to treating radiation sickness. However, in cases wherein the amount of radiation absorbed is way too much, there are less chances of survival. In fact, in some cases death can occur instantly, or within 2 days! Therefore, it becomes very important to take necessary precautions to save yourself from getting exposed to the radioactive substances. Even when it comes to helping affected people, one should take preventive measures and be extremely cautious in securing themselves from the radiation as it is highly contagious. Seeking medical attention is extremely important.