Radiation sickness occurs after exposure to a large amount of ionizing radiation over a short period of time. The symptoms of radiation sickness generally present in a predictable or orderly manner, most often after a sudden and unexpected exposure to high levels of radiation. In medical terms, radiation sickness is known as acute radiation syndrome, radiation poisoning, radiation injury, or radiation toxicity. The symptoms develop rapidly and are guided by the level of exposure. Exposure to enough radiation to cause sickness is rare.
1. Watch for symptom progression. Pay attention to the symptoms that develop, their severity, and their timing. It is possible for doctors to predict the level of radiation exposure from the timing and the nature of the symptoms. The severity of symptoms will vary depending on the radiation dose received, and the parts of the body that absorbed the emissions.
2. Identify the symptoms. There is no way to predict the exact course of a radiation exposure event that leads to radiation sickness since there are many variables involved. The symptom presentation is, however predictable. The degree of exposure, ranging from mild to very severe, can alter the timing of symptom development. The following symptoms are consistent with radiation sickness.
3. Consider the level of exposure. Four categories and their ranges of exposure are used to diagnose the levels of severity for radiation sickness. The levels are based on a sudden exposure over a short amount of time. The severity is determined by the degree of exposure and the onset of symptoms.
4. Know what the numbers mean. Radiation exposure is measured in different ways. In the United States, the level of radiation sickness is described as the amount of radiation absorbed by the body.
5. Recognize the method of exposure. Two types of exposure are possible; irradiation and contamination. Irradiation involves exposure to the radiation waves, emissions, or particles, while contamination involves direct contact with radioactive dust or liquid.
6. Consider possible causes. Radiation sickness is possible but unlikely and actual incidents are rare. Radiation exposure caused by an accident at a work site that uses radiation could cause radiation sickness. Potentially, a natural disaster that alters the integrity of a structure that contains powerful radiation, such as a nuclear power plant is possible.
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