Symptoms of Radiation Poisoning For Those Who Work in Radioactive Environments

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The short story is that direct exposure to radiation can negatively impact the DNA in your cells, causing radiation poisoning. If exposure exceeds the maximum recommended limits, immediate treatment is necessary to mitigate the damage. If employees or others experience acute, high-levels of radiation, immediate attention is always advised. However, the majority of radiation poisoning occurs over time, which makes it more difficult to detect.

Low-levels of radiation exposure, experienced consistently and for extended periods of time, can also cause radiation poisoning – also called radiation sickness – that can lead to life-threatening situations as well as terminal illness.


Recognize the Symptoms of Radiation Poisoning

Knowing the signs and symptoms of radiation poisoning supports you in identifying them in yourself, a loved one or a co-worker who may have been affected. It’s important to note that radiation poisoning is not caused by forms of non-ionizing radiation – such as the type used in microwaves, cell phones, or radar. Rather, it is caused by ionizing radiation emitted from x-rays, gamma rays and materials used in certain industrial and manufacturing industries. Particular bombardment, often used in medical testing and treatment, as well as weapons manufacturing and testing, also contribute to ionizing radioactive exposure.

Sometimes, harmful radiation exposure occurs as an accident, as is the case with nuclear facilities meltdowns; other times it’s the result of an employer’s failure to protect employees via radiation shielding, protective clothing, a means of accurately measuring and detecting employees’ exposure, etc.

Symptoms of radiation sickness include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bleeding from body orifices, typically mouth, nose, gums and/or anus
  • Bruising, burns or sloughing off of the skin
  • Hair loss
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea or bloody stool
  • Inflammation of exposed (affected) area – redness, swelling, tenderness and/or bleeding)
  • Ulcers or sores in the mouth, throat, esophagus and gastrointestinal tract

If you suspect yourself or someone you know is suffering from radiation poisoning, it’s imperative that you take immediate action. The greater the radiation exposure is, the more rapid symptoms will appear and the more severe they tend to be.

Protect Yourself and Decontaminate the Victim if Possible

If the exposure was direct, there is a good chance you and others are at risk as any liquid or particulate matter on or near the victim will expose you as well. Alert the Radiation Safety Officer or safety manager ASAP and immediately refer to documents instructing you what to do in this type of situation – often a part of the ALARA safety program.1

Also, you will need to alert first-responders, EMTs and the nearest hospital that you suspect radiation poisoning. By now, most hospitals have a protocol in place at receive, admit and treat individuals who have been contaminated by radiation or radioactive materials. However, smaller hospitals may refer you elsewhere or recommend specific means of transportation so adhering to their instructions is essential to obtaining treatment for the contaminated individual as quickly as possible.

Know Your Exposure Limits

In addition to recognizing the symptoms of illnesses related to radiation exposure, it’s equally important to know and adhere to regulated exposure limits. Never, under any circumstances, should you expose yourself or others to limits that exceed current safety guidelines.

Currently, radiation exposure maximums are:

  • Whole body: 5,000 mrem/year
  • Any organ: 50,000 mrem/year
  • Skin: 50,000 mrem/year
  • Extremity: 50,000 mrem/year
  • Lens of Eye: 15,000 mrem/year
  • Embryo/fetus: 500 mrem/year
  • Member of public: 100 mrem/year

Read, Know Your Radiation Exposure Limits for more detailed information on the topic.

Also, make sure you always wear a dosimeter or that radiation monitoring takes place consistently where you’re working to accurately track, monitor and record exposure limits.

Treat Radiation Exposure Immediately

Steps for treating radiation exposure beyond recommended levels include:

  • Attending to CPR and any other immediate medical concerns as safely and efficiently as possible.
  • Remove clothing and accessories (if any) to halt as much continued exposure as possible and seal them up completely.
  • Scrub the victim’s skin with soap and water thoroughly and vigorously to remove the remaining contaminant.
  • Use a soft, dry blanket to dry the victim and keep him/her warm.
  • Call 911 or transport the victim to the nearest, qualified medical center or hospital
  • Contact your company’s safety managers and local safety authorities to report the incident.

There are also things you should NEVER do in the case of acute radiation poisoning.


  • Remain in an area where the radiation exposure occurred
  • Remain in contaminated clothing
  • Apply ointment or creams to burns or contaminated areas on the body
  • Hesitate to contact medical authorities and to report the incident to necessary safety agencies.

Lancs Industries works tirelessly to prevent harmful radiation exposure leading to illness or poisoning. Contact us to learn more about our products, designed specifically to keep you and your co-workers safe in radioactive environments.

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