Radiation and Its Effect on the Human Body
Effects on the Human Body
Radiation can be briefly defined as energy that is emitted from the energy source in rays or waves, or in particles from radioactive substances. Human beings are exposed to radiation all the time, from the atmosphere, from electronic devices like televisions, microwaves, radios, cell phones, and computers, and every time we have an X-ray performed in a hospital or medical office. Radiation cannot be avoided completely and conventional wisdom says that the levels of radiation human beings are exposed to are generally not high enough to cause serious illness. But there can be long-term consequences to exposure to radiation, either from one acute single dose or from constant smaller doses over time. This article will define and discuss the consequences of environmental, medical, and nuclear radiation for the health of the human body.
Environmental radiation comes from many sources. Most people on earth are exposed to very small amounts of radiation from outer space. Sunburn is a form of skin injury caused by prolonged exposure or overexposure of the skin to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. As most people know, serious sunburns can often lead to skin cancer later on. In addition to cosmic radiation, human beings can be exposed to radiation caused by the decay of various radioactive materials here on earth, like uranium and plutonium. These materials are present in the earth’s crust, and when they decompose, they can leave very dangerous radon in their wake. Radon can seep into houses, is usually found in basements, and can cause cancer to the inhabitants of the house after prolonged exposure.
Medical professionals use radiation in a couple of different ways. First, it is helpful in diagnosis of a patient. Radiation is produced by X-ray machines, commonly used device for viewing the internal organs of a patient. People who undergo a lot of X-rays are exposed to higher amounts of radiation than others. While it is true that in most cases the doses of radiation for diagnostic purposes is low, if the patient undergoes multiple tests in a short period of time, the amount of radiation to which they are exposed naturally increases. Radiation is also used to treat serious diseases such as cancer. People who undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer treatment are exposed to unusually high levels of radiation.
Radiation from medical diagnostic machines or medical treatments can cause damage to the blood vessels and surrounding tissues. This damage can cause the scarring of internal tissues, hair loss, and reduction of saliva, tear, and sweat production. Many people experience nausea, vomiting, and extreme fatigue as well.
Nuclear radiation occurs from unstable atoms. These unstable atoms exist naturally in our environment, but many more of them are created from the generation of nuclear energy. The proliferation and use of nuclear energy is controversial because of the amount of radiation that this technology can produce, and the risk of nuclear accidents always looms, as people recall the events that occurred on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979, and in Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986. Many advocates for nuclear energy insist that it is safe, but it is also true that the employees of nuclear energy plants are exposed to more radiation than the average person.
People can be exposed to nuclear radiation if they live in areas affected by radiation from nuclear explosions. This type of radiation was experienced by the people of Hiroshima, Japan, after the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on the city in 1945. Skin burns from the radiation can occur, but burns to the internal organs can occur as well if the radiation is strong enough. Strong nuclear radiation can cause the failure and death of many of the body’s organs and systems, including the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal system. This type of radiation also affects the reproductive system, causing sterility either temporarily or permanently depending upon the dose. Miscarriages and birth defects are also possible. One of the most common effects of strong nuclear radiation is the development of any number of cancers, including leukemia, skin, and lung cancers. Many of these effects are caused not only by the initial dose of radiation but the cumulative effects of radiation emitted over time.
Though exposure to radiation is inevitable for human beings, and it can even be helpful if used safely in medical procedures or possibly even as an energy source, it is important to bear in mind what some of the health consequences of exposure to radiation can be, whether that exposure occurs all at once or over the course of several months or even years. Taking steps to limit exposure to radiation whenever possible can have beneficial effects on the health of the human population.