The thyroid is a delicate gland that is extremely sensitive to the effects of radiation. This butterfly-shaped gland is located at the front of the neck and wrapped around the windpipe. It’s considered to be the master gland of metabolism, as it releases vital hormones that influence every single cell in your body.
Functions controlled or regulated by the thyroid gland include growth and maturation, thermoregulation, heartbeat rhythm, blood pressure, digestion, fetal development, mood, and behavior. Damage to the thyroid can affect almost every aspect of your health. Read on to determine how to reduce your levels of thyroid radiation exposure.
What Are the Health Effects of Radiation Exposure on the Thyroid?
Radiation is the most clearly defined environmental factor associated with thyroid diseases. However, some thyroid abnormalities can be difficult to ascribe to radiation as symptoms may be non-specific, manifest elsewhere in the body, or develop years after exposure.
Let’s look at some of the thyroid diseases caused by radiation exposure:
1. Radiation-Induced Thyroid Carcinoma:
Radiation exposure is a severe cancer risk, especially in childhood. Most cancerous nodules grow slowly, but some are very aggressive. Symptoms are pain, a lump in the neck, swollen lymph nodes, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing or breathing.
2. Benign Thyroid Adenomas:
Non-cancerous nodules may overproduce thyroid hormones, leading to hyperthyroidism. Symptoms include fatigue, weight loss, excessive sweating and mood swings. Some adenomas can push against the windpipe, mimicking cancer symptoms.
3. Primary Hypothyroidism:
The thyroid is unable to produce enough T3 and T4 hormones. Common symptoms include fatigue, dry skin, constipation, sensitivity to cold, depression, muscle weakness and weight gain. Symptoms worsen as the disease progresses.
4. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis:
The immune system attacks thyroid cells, leading to inflammation and cell death. Symptoms are similar to hypothyroidism and also include painless swelling of the neck (known as a goiter), heart problems, and reproductive dysfunction.
5. Radiation-induced Thyroiditis:
Paradoxically, this inflammation is caused by radiotherapy to treat hyperthyroidism or cancer. The sufferer experiences intense pain and swelling from the destruction of thyroid tissue.
How Is the Thyroid Exposed to Radiation?
The thyroid gland can be exposed to radiation via two mechanisms:
- Internal exposure results from a source within the body. This type of exposure is caused by radioactive elements called radionuclides.
- External exposure results from a source outside the body. This type of exposure is caused by ionizing electromagnetic waves.
How to Reduce the Effects of Internal Radiation Exposure
All radionuclides are potentially hazardous if inhaled or ingested. However, the thyroid gland is most susceptible to iodine-131. It actively pumps iodine into its cells to synthesize hormones, but can’t differentiate between ordinary iodine and its radioactive isotope. Taking potassium iodide blocks the uptake of radioactive iodine by the thyroid, thus preventing damage.
If you’re a radiologic professional working with radionuclides such as iodine-131, Barrier Technologies® can’t protect you from internal exposure, but we can advise you on how to prevent accidents in the workplace:
1. Practice Good Hygiene
- Never eat or drink in the radiation controlled area.
- Be aware of your “hand-to-mouth” habits.
2. Enforce Contamination Control
- Label all radioactive items and areas.
- Use absorbent papers and spill trays.
- Dispose of contaminated items in appropriate, labeled waste containers.
- Decontaminate any spillages promptly.
3. Be Aware of Airborne Dangers
- Use compartments such as fume hoods and glove boxes to minimize dispersal.
- Avoid inhaling any dust, aerosol, or volatile gasses produced.
4. Use Proper Personal Protective Equipment
- Use personal protective equipment (PPE), such as x-ray lead aprons, thyroid shields, eyewear, and protective gloves.
- Barrier Technologies supplies a full range of radiation protection products.
How to Reduce the Effects of External Radiation Exposure
High-energy electromagnetic waves such as x-rays and gamma rays are widely used in medical diagnostics and therapeutics. They’re also employed in many other industries, such as agriculture and mining.
If you’re a radiologic worker, remember that radiation is cumulative. Always practice the mandatory ALARA Principle—As Low As Reasonably Achievable—to minimize the danger posed by scatter radiation. It has 3 cardinal components:
- Keep the period of exposure as short as possible to get a clear image.
- Pre-plan imaging to avoid unnecessary and redundant exposure.
- Use pulsed instead of continuous fluoroscopy wherever possible.
- Stay as far away from the source of radiation as possible.
- Gamma and x-ray emissions follow the inverse square law—increasing distance from the source by a factor of 2 reduces the radiation dosage by a factor of 4.
- Ensure that the radiation source is properly shielded.
- Wear radiation-protective PPE, as mentioned in the previous section.
- Place radiation protective barriers between yourself and the source.
- Barrier Technologies manufactures the highest quality radiation protective apparel and protective barriers.
How to Protect from Radiation Exposure with a Thyroid Shield
In 2013, the American Thyroid Association (ATA) released its Policy Statement on Thyroid Shielding During Diagnostic Medical and Dental Radiology. It recommended the use of thyroid shields to protect the thyroid.
The policy states: “With regards to CT scans and other diagnostic radiography, the ATA recommends the use of thyroid shields when possible to protect the thyroid. These procedures may involve clinically relevant radiation doses to the thyroid, especially when more than one examination is performed, and the goal is to reduce thyroid exposure as much as feasible.” (http://www.thyroid.org/wp-content/uploads/statements/ABS1223_policy_statement.pdf)
Barrier Technologies fabricates comfortable, effective thyroid shield collars that cover the entire area where the neck meets the chest. Try our technologically advanced, patented UltraFlex™ covering fabric, which is durable, antimicrobial, stain resistant, and easy to clean. Another option is to replace Velcro with our revolutionary MagnaGuard™ magnetic closure system. Choose between lead, lead-lite, and lead-free options for optimal protection.
We offer a selection of three different styles:
- Boomerang Thyroid Shield: our standard collar.
- Visor Thyroid Collar: with enhanced neck protection.
- Disposable Thyroid Collar: for short-term use.
The ATA’s findings confirm that wearing a thyroid shield is an essential precaution to protect the thyroid from the dangerous effects of scatter radiation. These collars minimize the risk of radiologic workers, medical professionals, and patients developing cancer and other life-threatening conditions.
Barrier Technologies are the foremost manufacturer of thyroid collars to mitigate the harmful effects of radiation.
We fabricate our unmatched and innovative products in-house and partner with medical facilities of all sizes. It gives us a unique placement to cater to the specific needs of any organization. For more information, please contact us today or download our catalog.