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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:
As far as reducing radiation exposure in general, one thing we can all do is to minimize our exposure to it whenever possible.  Here are some steps - make sure environmentally our houses are all tested for radon (this is one of the biggest sources of radiation at baseline)
Garry Choy, MD:
Other steps include avoiding unnecessary x-ray examinations (CT scans, x-rays etc) - make sure you ask your doctor if the test is really indicated and helpful to clinical management decisions
JMR6332:
Are the radiation badges available to the public?
Garry Choy, MD:
Radiation badges are available for purchase but generally not marketed to the public as there is a pretty low demand for them.  However, any organization or person who wants to buy them can contact a multitude of companies that specialize in badge monitoring
JMR6332:
How small is an airborne radioactive particle? What type of mask would one need to prevent inhalation? The same type that people wore to prevent SARS or H1N5?
Garry Choy, MD:
The particles are very very small.  Commercially available masks are only marginally helpful for radiation protection for inhaled particles.  Masks used by the military and relief workers are more sophisticated and are a bit more effective - these are not the same type as those in SARS or H1N1
little_ninja:
We have a trip planned to Hong Kong at the beginning of June to visit family. We had originally planned to stop in Japan and visit Tokyo, Kyoto and Hakone the week before (starting 5/26). Do you think it will be safe? Will all the radiation have dissipated by then?
Garry Choy, MD:
I believe at this time the US State Dept has discouraged travel to Japan.  I would be most concerned for the food supply, particularly if you have young children traveling with you.  I would continue to keep a close eye on the news, particularly any events related to the food/water supply
Garry Choy, MD:
If the levels in the food and water supply continue to rise, I would advise against visiting Japan
SFmonsterdark:
If exposure to radiation is harmful to the human body, why do we use radiation therapy as cancer treatment? Isn’t this also harmful?
Garry Choy, MD:
Great question -- radiation therapy has advantages and disadvantages.  
Garry Choy, MD:
Radiation therapy is only used if the benefit outweighs the risk for a particular patient
Garry Choy, MD:
That is why before any radiation therapy is administered, a specialist such as a radiation oncologist will determine if the patient should get RT (Radiation therapy) for their cancer... all this decision making is based on existing research and evidence
Garry Choy, MD:
Radiation therapy can destroy tumor cells very effectively -- if that benefit allows for improved survival, potential side effects can also be justified
Jibs1:
If a person has been exposed to excess radiation, how many generations later will it affect DNA that we'll see/know it was from that?
Garry Choy, MD:
It depends on the tissue type and type of radiation exposure.  
Garry Choy, MD:
Radiation can in theory affect existing DNA causing damage if dose is high enough
ChitChatNine:
Many members of our Thyroid Community, here at MedHelp.org, are concerned about risks if they have to take iodine pills -- are there any risks for those who have undergone Thyroid Cancer I-131 treatment and/or those who have had thyroidectomies and have to take hormone replacements like synthroid, etc. ?
Garry Choy, MD:
Side effect of excessive iodine intake can lead to metabolic/endocrine imbalance in patients with partial thyroidectomies and/or on current thyroid medications - definitely consult a doctor before taking any iodine pills
arusi:
how can i prevent cellular (as in living cells) damage from computer radiation?
Garry Choy, MD:
The radiation from computers is typically so low that there is no real way to prevent it except for decrease in usage.  Decrease exposure to source is the general strategy for avoiding any type of radiation risk.
auntiejessi:
Should we have anything in our homes in case of a radiation danger?  Certain foods, medicine, etc?  
Garry Choy, MD:
For those living for example closest to a nuclear power plant, precautions such as having bottled water, canned foods, and iodine pills would be useful.  Again making sure your food and water supply is protected is very important.
valwood:
Is there any alternative to taking iodine for those who are sensitive to iodine supplements?
Garry Choy, MD:
In order to protect the thyroid, for those sensitive to iodine supplements, one potential strategy is to take a lower dose - but that dose will totally depend on a patient's particular medical history.  Consulting with one's physician is therefore very important for those with any relevant medical history.
Emily_MHModerator:
If we don't live in a major city, will the detectors help us?  How far do they reach, typically?
Garry Choy, MD:
These detectors are still helpful in that based on wind currents (for example, if the city is west of you), the detected radiation levels are likely to be higher.  The detectors can pick up very small levels of particles - so there will be ample warning.  
MedHelp:
We have time for one more question.
katscan:
hi dr. choy. my sister who lives in LA is trying to get pregnant. Should she delay trying to conceive right now? could her baby be harmed if she were to get pregnant? thanks for your response.
Garry Choy, MD:
Based on the news at this time, I don't foresee any significant health risk for anyone conceiving at this time in LA.  Do keep up to date with the new though as if any signs of increasing levels of radioactivity detected on US soil -- precautions should be considered depending on anyone's personal decisions.
MedHelp:
Thank you Dr. Choy for taking the time to answer our members' questions today.  This has been a very popular chat and we hope to be able to bring you back in the future for another chat.
Garry Choy, MD:
At this time, do also pay attention to any foods coming directly from Japan and also avoid traveling directly to Japan if attempting to conceive at this time.