About Preventing and Treating Radiation Injuries and Illness

Key points

  • Health effects from radiation vary depending on a number of factors.
  • Community reception centers will check you for radiation contamination.
  • If exposed to radiation, be aware of symptoms of acute radiation syndrome, including skin burns, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Do not go outside until an emergency official says it is safe.
Arm with swelling and redness as a result of acute radiation syndrome

Health effects due to radiation exposure

The health effects of radiation depend on

  • The amount of radiation absorbed by the body (the dose)
  • The type of radiation
  • How the radioactive material got in or on the body
  • The length of time a person was exposed

If you were exposed to a small amount of radiation, you will not see any health effects right away. You may not have any long-term health effects.

Depending on the radiation levels received, radiation health experts may monitor people affected by radiation emergencies for any medical issues.

What to look out for

Acute radiation syndrome (ARS) is caused by exposure to large amounts of radiation in a short time. If you have any of the following symptoms after radiation exposure, you should seek medical attention as soon as it is safe:

  • Skin burns
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Symptoms can appear within minutes to several days after you were exposed to large amounts of radiation.

If you experience ARS, you may develop Cutaneous Radiation Injuries (CRI). Not everyone who develops CRI will have ARS.

Symptoms of CRI can appear from a few hours to several days after exposure.

The early signs and symptoms of CRI include

  • Itchiness
  • Tingling
  • Skin redness (erythema)
  • Swelling caused by a buildup of fluid (edema)

Prevention steps and strategies

Before you move‎

You should not leave your building or place of shelter until officials or emergency responders have said it is safe, unless you have a life-threatening condition, or the building is unstable or on fire.

The best way to prevent radiation injuries and illness is to

Treat non-radiation related cuts, bruises, or injuries with first aid. Keep cuts and abrasions covered when washing to keep radioactive material out of the wound.

Emergency officials will set up community reception centers to check people for radiation exposure and contamination.

Medical emergencies‎

If you have symptoms after a radiation emergency, seek medical attention as soon as emergency officials determine it is safe to do so.