Radiation is harmful in most circumstances. Length and strength of exposure plays a factor in later health, appearance, fertility and bodily functioning. The effects of radiation may even be carried out in the next generation in some instances. Even at low levels it can destroy and break down important cells and structures like the GI tract or the blood system. This is seen oftentimes in cancer treatment. Prognosis depends on many variables and there is no guarantee of future health since the exact effects of radiation are so uncertain.
At exposure to 200 rems or more hair loss occurs. Hair follicles are very sensitive to radiation. The hair loss may be permanent or temporary depending on the amount of exposure a person endures. It may take three to six months for hair to grow back. The scalp will be sensitive to exposure, becoming tender and pink. The scalp may feel as though it has been sunburned. After two to three weeks of exposure, the scalp will become dry and itchy.
The brain is not damaged until 5,000 rems because it does not reproduce cells. Exposure to radiation kills nerves and small blood vessels, causing seizures and immediate death. At lower doses brain damage can still occur such as decreased intellect, memory problems and confusion, personality and mood changes. According to an August 2009 article in U.S. Health, a decline in cognition is also experienced including attention or listening skills, verbal memory, working memory, psychomotor functioning and information processing speed.
The Blood System
At 100 rems, lymphocyte presence in the blood is reduced. This leaves a person more susceptible to infection. This condition is known as mild radiation sickness. Early symptoms mimic symptoms of the flu and they may go unnoticed until a blood count is preformed. According to atomicarchive.com, these symptoms can continue up to ten years and the victim will have a heightened chance of contracting leukemia and lymphoma. White cell count, lymphocyte count and platelet count will be reduced. Red cell count is generally not affected unless the patient is losing blood.
The Gastrointestinal Tract
At 200 rems or more, radiation damage to the gastrointestinal tract lining causes nausea, bloody vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Blood vessels in the colon and rectum bleed easily causing bloody stool. Radiation begins to destroy cells that multiply quickly at this point. These include the blood, the GI tract, reproductive system, hair cells and harms DNA and RNA. Inflammation of the large or small intestine can occur along with scaring and blockage of the small intestine up to seven years after exposure.
The Reproductive Tract
At 200 rems, destruction of the reproductive tract begins. This is because the radiation destroys all cells that divide quickly. Long-term radiation exposure leaves the victim with radiation sickness and sterility. Birth defects have been noted in fetuses born to pregnant women exposed to radiation. In many cases the children die due to their sometimes severe defects. According to the radiation answers website in the 2007 article “Radiation Effects on Eggs and Sperm,” testes and ovaries can be exposed to radiation during cancer treatment using radiation for therapeutic reasons. In these instances, many men and women remained fertile and their children did not experience chromosome mutations or birth defects in most cases.
Radiation, even when used in life saving procedures is dangerous. If one is exposed to radiation, one must guard one’s health to the best of one’s ability. It is imperative to decrease exposure time and strength of radiation to try and ensure future health.