Radiation Poisoning: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

The US centre for Disease Control identifies Radiation Poisoning in the name of Acute Radiation Syndrome. When the unstable nucleus of the atom decays, it releases ionizing particles which can be called as ionizing radiation. Radiation poisoning results when body cells are exposed to chronic ionized radiation for a prolonged duration. It might also lead to permanent damage of cells. Radiation poisoning can even alter the genetic code of the DNA resulting in diseases that might recur for generations.


Electromagnetic (cell phone tower or microwave) radiation hazards

Besides radioactive sources, electromagnetic radiations (EMR) also cause considerable health problems. As ionizing radiation hazards are relatively of higher magnitude, their occurrence can be attributed to nuclear accidents or dangers of modern warfare. The EMR on the other hand may be less dangerous but the exposure is continuous, and has become a part of our daily lives and is the manifestation of modern life style products usage.

 Microwave Radiation

Sources of traditional nuclear radiation and Electromagnetic radiation

The main sources of radiation poisoning arising out of ionized radiation are nuclear industry accidents, detonation of nuclear bombs and sometimes excessive exposure to diagnostic radiation sources such as x-rays. The electromagnetic radiation (EMR) arises out of mobile phones, cell towers, microwave sources, wi-fi devices and TV, FM, AM transmission towers


History of Radiation hazards
Radiation Poisoning

A Japanese girl recovering from the effects of radiation sickness (Image: Wikipedia)

Radiation poisoning was discovered by scientists while performing experiments with radioactive materials during the second half of the 19th century,. The famous scientist Nikola Tesla explained the reason for the burns he developed after his hands were exposed to the initial X-ray technology. Another Nobel Prize laureate Marie Curie dedicated her life in learning about radiation and its advantages. She ultimately died because of cancer which experts say was caused because of continuous radiation exposure. The threats of functioning with radioactive materials were revealed by 1940s. But the extent of damage came to light only after the nuclear bomb attack of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945. It is said that almost 20% of the deaths occurred because of radiation poisoning. Studies related to radiation exposure conducted all through decades reveal that there is an increase in the incidence of cancer and other related diseases.


The health hazards of electromagnetic radiation are of recent origin and detected only recently along with growth of the use of gadgets using the electromagnetic radiation like mobile phones and their signal transmitting towers, wi-fi equipment, domestic microwave units. At low levels they are harmless. But EMR is at the heart of many life style products of day to day use and hence risk of hazard is multiplying exponentially.


Measurement of radiation levels

REM or roentgen equivalent in man is the unit used to measure the dosage of radiation. A dosage of up to 50 rem does not cause any problems. But higher doses between 200 and 1000 will certainly create serious problems. Any dosage above 1000 rem will result in the death of the person.

 Radiation Measurement

Specific absorption rate or SAR, the unit for measuring the absorption levels of radio frequency exposure per unit of body mass is used to find the safe exposure levels based on elaborate scientific studies.


Symptoms of Radiation Poisoning

The most common symptoms are vomiting and nausea. If the person comes under the influence of radiation poisoning, the related symptoms will be seen within few hours which are followed by fatigue and fever. Loss of hair, dizziness, blood in the urine and stool, low blood pressure are also seen. If the radiation is very high, it results in the death of the person.


In persons who are under the influence of low dosage of radiation over a period of time, like biochemical workers, will develop other diseases related to the damage of tissues, cells, organs and also immune systems. The body becomes susceptible to lot many diseases.



A special device known as dosimeter is used to measure the radiation dose absorbed by the body. But the only drawback of this instrument is it should be exposed to the similar radiation event that had affected the person.



There is no foolproof treatment for radiation poisoning or radiation sickness. The drugs used in the treatment can only ease the pain and prevent infections to certain extent. To treat severe anemia, blood transfusion may be prescribed. Antibiotics are used to treat infections. For treating higher doses of radiation, bone marrow transplantation may be opted for.


Research in this area is still in the nascent stages and a lot has to be done before a final solution is revealed. As of now the chances of recovering from radiation sickness are high but it does not give any guarantee that the person is totally fit. It all depends on the extent of cell damage, immunity levels of the person. The cell damage may lead to several types of cancers. Hence, in the case of radiation, precaution is definitely better than cure.


Prevention of radiation hazards

Exposure to radiation should always be avoided. Workers in the radiation areas should put on the special badges which show the level of radiation.


During radiation therapy and X-ray imaging, the body parts which are not exposed or treated should be safely covered to avoid radiation exposure.


Potassium iodide should be consumed orally before the exposure. The potassium salts are non radioactive and protect the body. If the radiation is limited only to hands and feet, and no other important organs are exposed, then there are very high chances of radiation poisoning not impacting the body.


Studies are going on to gauge the effects of all types of radiation. Man is becoming a victim of his own creations and radiation exposure is the best example for this phenomenon. As science progresses, the dangers are also increasing and the unresolved question is whether science is a boon or bane to mankind.