Health Chats
Radiation Exposure: What You Need to Know
Thursday Mar 24, 2011, 04:00PM - 05:00PM (EST)
Garry Choy, MD, MSBlank
Radiologist
Massachusetts General Hospital
Diagnostic Radiology, MA
Radiologist Garry Choy, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital discusses the health risks of radiation exposure, how you can protect yourself and the signs and symptoms of radiation sickness in this free one-hour health chat on Thursday, March 24, at 4pm ET/1pm PT.<br><br> Of the many fallouts from the tragic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, one of the most dire is the leaking of radioactive materials from the damaged nuclear reactors. On Thursday, March 17, 2011, President Obama stressed, “We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States.” Still, the events bring to mind the question of radiation exposure. Get the facts in this free, one-hour health chat.<br><br> Garry Choy, MD, is a board-certified radiologist who specializes in diagnostic radiology at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA, and answers questions in MedHelp’s radiology forum.<br><br>
Garry Choy, MD:
Hi coolgefyt, There is a group of people and even certain researchers who believe low levels of radiation may be "good" for you.  In my opinion, I do not believe there is enough data to know for sure.
Garry Choy, MD:
So far science supports that radiation and increasing doses of it are harmful
sergio44:
Hi ,which unit is it currently used for measuring radiation levels?.I know that there are many of these. Sergio (Argentina)
Garry Choy, MD:
Hi Sergio44, there are many units but the one we should be aware of that include radiation's potential effects is the "Sievert"
Garry Choy, MD:
The Sievert (Sv) is the SI unit for "dose equivalent radiation" and quantitatively estimates also the biological effects of ionizing radiation as opposed to just the intrinsic physical aspects
rosebunny:
what do we need to prepare in case this happens to us ? clothing meds mask ! ?
Garry Choy, MD:
In the event that we have a nuclear event, in order to prepare, we need to have a good evacuation plan first and foremost.
Garry Choy, MD:
In addition, as radioactive particles are in the air supply in a nuclear event, a mask would be helpful as well.  Also a protected supply of food (canned, etc) to outlast the event would also be very important.
goatgirl:
Hi Dr. Choy.  I was wondering how this radiation exposure in Japan would effect people who may have already undergone radiation therapy for cancer.  Are they extra susceptible to radiation poisoning or issues from the fallout?  Thank you.
Garry Choy, MD:
The radiation exposure in Japan would certainly be more of an issue with those who have radiation therapy.  
Garry Choy, MD:
People who have already had radiation have already received a high dose of radiation.  And even for a person never exposed, some of the potential radiation exposure nearest to the nuclear reactor (i.e. workers at the power plant) are already at high levels
Garry Choy, MD:
They are not particularly more susceptible to "radiation poisoning" compared to a person who never received radiation before
Garry Choy, MD:
Things to look out for include symptoms of acute radiation exposure (and this only applies to the workers who are working hard at the nuclear reactor as they are the most at risk at this time) - symptoms include:
Garry Choy, MD:
Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting are among the first... other effects on the immune system, hematological system as well
criscat111:
what is the latest update on the radioactive cloud from Japan being above the NE US? How dangerous is the radioactive level (in water, air etc) in the Boston area and what could we expect in the next days? Thank you.
Garry Choy, MD:
As far as the latest update from what I hear in the news is that there is no significant levels of radio-isotopes detected in the Northeast US
Garry Choy, MD:
However, I am sure officials are closely monitoring from West to East coast as wind currents change and evolve
Garry Choy, MD:
No one should be alarmed at all at this time in the continental US
Jibs1:
Dr Choy - Working around radiology equipment all the time, do you ever test yourself for your own levels of radiation?
Garry Choy, MD:
Yes people who work in occupations using radiation wear special badges that measure exposure.  We submit these badges on a regular basis to be tested.  If we exceed the amount of radiation absorbed dose/exposure we then have to limit or even stop our work in radiation for that particular time period.
margypops:
I hear that Tokyo's water supplies now have radiation levels that are still rising ,  there is panic buying of bottled water . This all started with Tokyo officials finally admitting that the levels had risen beyond the point of safe consumption for babies and toddlers .It sounds as if the citizens were ill prepared for this .What would we be able to put in place if anything should the same happen here ..
Garry Choy, MD:
Yes I too am a bit concerned about that news about the local drinking water in Japan.
Garry Choy, MD:
I don't think anyone can be totally prepared well for this as we rely so heavily on our drinking supply.  
Garry Choy, MD:
As far as precautions and steps to deal with a similar problem anywhere else, including here, we should have plans in place to have bottled water and a protected supply of water for distribution to the public in the event of contamination
Garry Choy, MD:
If the situation gets worse in Japan, I can foresee the next wave of relief efforts will be focused on clean water and clean food.
camom74:
Is it advisable to purchase potassium iodine pills as of now to counteract radiation?
Garry Choy, MD:
It is a good question - at this time there is no definite recommendation from the healthcare community or myself for people in the US based on what we hear at the moment.  
Garry Choy, MD:
However, those in Japan closest to the nuclear reactor should consider having iodine pills available should they need it.
mzrichee:
i saw on the news last week about some pharmacies on the west coast running out of iodine due to the spike in demand because of radiation fears. what do tablets like iodine and potassium iodide do or how do they help w/ radiation?
Garry Choy, MD:
The reason why iodine pills are recommended in the case of high radiation exposure is that the Thyroid is one of most sensitive organs to radiation.  
Garry Choy, MD:
The thyroid actually takes up iodine actively - both normal and radioactive iodine.  But if a high dose of normal iodine is administered through pills, this effectively "blocks" and decreases the uptake of the radioactive iodine--thereby offering some protection to the thyroid
miszjanee:
Hi Dr. Choy, great to have you here. Is there anything we can do to reduce our exposure to radiation and its effects?