The procedures that are employed in treating radiation poisoning lay their focus in managing the symptoms, reducing organ damage, and further exposure to radiation. Know more about them from the following.
The term ‘radiation poisoning’ has other names to it; ‘acute radiation sickness’ and ‘acute radiation syndrome’. As the name suggests, this condition signifies damage to the organs and tissues of the body caused by a very large dose of radiation. And this large dose is usually received over a short period of time. Medical procedures such as CT scan or X-ray does exposes the body to radiation, but in amounts that are too low to cause any damage whatsoever.
Basically, the severity of the condition depends upon the level of exposure; the higher the exposure level is, the more damage is caused. A good news about this severe and fatal condition is that, it is a rare medical condition. Nonionizing and ionizing are the two types of radiation. The former type has no effect on the body, but the latter one does. Ionizing damages body tissues and organs when it is introduced in the body in very large doses. It is known that the cells in the lining of the intestinal tract of the body, and bone marrow cells that manufacture blood cells, are commonly affected by the radiation.
Sources of Radiation, and the Symptoms
Sources which may cause people to get exposed to high levels of radiation may include explosive devices that may disperse radioactive matters after being detonated, cosmic rays (space travelers are affected), and nuclear industrial facility (a malfunction in the working can leak a good amount of radiation into the atmosphere). Besides these external radiation exposure, a person may be exposed to the same problem from within.
This occurs when a radioactive material enters into the body of the organism. An important point to take a note of is the fact that, the effects of external exposure and internal exposure are different from each other. For instance, a large dose of alpha radiation when affects the body externally, may not be as severe as when the same matter gets into the body through ingestion or inhalation.
Radiation Poisoning Effects
Treatment of radiation sickness is greatly influenced by the nature of the symptoms, as they are the main indicators of the severity of the damage that the radiation has caused to the body. Medical experts have established a unit called gray (Gy) to measure the absorbed dose of radiation by the body. Now as mentioned early, the reason medical procedures such as X-ray or CT scan do not pose any threat to the patient’s health is that, their radiation absorption is easily below 0.1 Gy – an amount that is well too low to cause any problems.
Now, the threshold limit at which the radiation starts causing signs and symptom is a mere 1 Gy. And if anyone gets exposed to more than 6 Gy of radiation, then the situation is not treatable, and in most cases leads to death of the irradiated person.
Usually, nausea and/or vomiting are the first symptoms that occur after a person is irradiated. The time between the exposure and the occurrence of the first symptoms, holds an important significance. This is because, rapid occurrence of symptoms generally means that the radiation exposure has been a severe one. The most common symptoms of this condition may include:
- Bleeding from the nose, mouth, gums and rectum
- Bloody stools
- Formation of ulcers in the esophagus, stomach or intestines
- Hair loss
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Mouth ulcers
- Skin burns
- Sloughing of skin
- Slow wound healing
- Vomiting blood
To repeat what I had mentioned in the opening lines of the article, the main goal of the treatment is to prevent further exposure to radiation, manage the symptoms, and reduce chances of organ damage. The first step in treating the problem is to get rid of all radioactive sources from the vicinity of the ailing person.
All the belongings of the affected person are removed, and so are the additional radiating particles that may still remain on the skin. Doing this not only curbs the chances of further external radiation exposure, but also cuts the risk of internal radiation that may occur from ingestion or inhalation. Once the process of decontamination is over, the real treatment begins.
As aforementioned, bone marrow cells are commonly affected by large doses of radiation. So to counter this, patients are given medications which help in preventing this complication. There are other treatment methods as well, which are administered only when a person is exposed to a specific kind of radiation.
For instance, if someone has been exposed to radioactive iodine, then he may be treated with potassium iodide. Poisoning caused by cesium and thallium could be treated with Prussian blue – a type of dye. Again, people may suffer from internal exposure to particles such as plutonium, americium and curium. So for them, the treatment is carried out with the help of what is known as Diethylenetriamine Pentaacetic Acid (DTPA).
Patients might also be given supportive care to manage symptoms like fever, diarrhea, dehydration, nausea, or bacterial infections. Some people may also require the aid of psychological counseling.