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Ionizing Radiation: A Tissue Damager



With the advent of various man-made sources like x-ray machines, nuclear power stations, etc. the question has always been raised regarding the safety of human health. The energy generated in the form of radiation from the radioactive materials like uranium and its by-products during the ionization has raised the level of radioactivity in the atmosphere.

How does it affect living things?

During radioactivity, the energy produced strips away the electron from the atoms thus breaking the chemical bond. As the human body consists of atoms and molecules, the radiation damages it in such a manner that it cannot be repaired or it could be too severe or widespread to be repaired. Even if the body tries to repair it in its natural process then it would lead to cancerous cells.

What are its effects on any living thing?

The factors that judge the severity or type of health effects are the amount and duration of radiation. The health effects are broadly classified into two categories:

Stochastic Health Effects

Stochastic means the likelihood that something will happen; it refers to long-term and low-level exposure to radiation. The level of exposure is directly proportional to the probability of its occurrence but does not influence the severity of the effect.

The primary health effect due the radiation is cancer; it is actually the uncontrolled growth of cells. Ordinarily, the body controls and processes the growth, reconstruction, or replacement of damaged tissue. But the damage occurring at the cellular or molecular level makes it a potent carcinogen.

Mutations occur when the repair and replacement of cells do not produce the perfect copy of its primitive. Thus radiation is also one the stochastic effect that leads to change in DNA. There are two kinds of mutations:

Teratogenic Mutations: It is caused by the exposure of a fetus present in the uterus and it affects only the individual who was exposed.

Genetic Mutations: These mutations are passed to the offspring.

Non-Stochastic Health Effects

Non-stochastic effects are short-term, high-level exposure also referred to as acute exposure. It occurs when you are exposed to a high level of radiation and its effect increases periodically. This results in non-cancerous health effects like burns and radiation sickness. Symptoms of radiation sickness include weakness, diminished organ functions, nausea, or skin burns. Acute exposure could result in death in 2 months and sometimes premature aging.

Even the patients receiving radiation treatments suffer from the aforementioned symptoms.

How radionuclides contribute to radiation health effects?

Human organs require certain elements to function, but they can’t distinguish between the radioactive as well as non-radioactive elements. Thus it accumulates the non-radioactive elements as it accumulates other.

  • Iodine: Thyroid cannot differentiate between the stable iodine and radioactive isotopes of iodine resulting in thyroid cancer.
  • Radium 226, Strontium 90, and Calcium have the same chemical property, thus the body tends to accumulate calcium in bones and teeth resulting in bone cancer.

To conclude, if proper radiation shielding is done on the devices then it could avoid all the possible health hazards mentioned above.