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What Is Radiation Sickness and How Does It Affect You?

When a hefty dosage of high-energy radiation passes through your body and reaches your interior organs, you get radiation sickness. It happens even faster when you don’t have any radiation shielding

The sickness, which is appropriately known as acute radiation syndrome, was called after the World War II atomic bombs by doctors. It’s unclear how many of the 150,000 to 250,000 persons murdered in the assaults succumbed to radiation poisoning. However, the number was estimated to be in the hundreds or thousands at the time.

Radiation illness has claimed the lives of roughly 50 individuals since then. This includes the 28 employees and firefighters who died in the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. Acute radiation sickness was detected in over 100 people at Chernobyl, although they all lived.

The majority of those who died due to it worked as scientists or technicians at nuclear power facilities in the United States or the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, three employees in Japan were exposed to radiation during an atomic fuel explosion in 1999, and two of them perished. After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, no incidences of radiation illness were documented.

Basics of Radiation

The quantity of radiation that your body receives is measured in sieverts, an international unit (Sv). When you’re exposed to more than 500 millisieverts (mSv), or half a sievert, you get radiation sickness symptoms. A dose of Sv of more than 4 to 5 is likely to be deadly. Workers exposed to radiation at Chernobyl had doses ranging from 700 mSv to 13 Sv.

Natural radiation may be found in the air, water, and objects such as brick and granite. You usually only acquire approximately three mSv (3 one-thousandths of a sievert) of radiation from these natural sources in a year.

Man-made sources of radiation, such as X-rays, contribute around 3 mSv to the total. A CT (computerized tomography) scan, which consists of several X-rays obtained from various angles, produces roughly 10 mSv. Nuclear workers are not authorized to be exposed to more than 50 millisieverts per year.

What is the first indicator of an excessive amount of radiation?

The most frequent early symptoms of radiation sickness are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, as they are for many other disorders. They might appear minutes after exposure, although they may last for many days. If you have these symptoms after a radiation emergency, get medical attention as soon as it is safe to do so.

You might also get skin damage, such as severe sunburn, blisters, or sores. Radiation may also harm the cells that produce hair, resulting in hair loss. Hair loss may be permanent in certain circumstances.

Symptoms might last anywhere from a few hours to weeks before completely disappearing. When they return, though, they are usually in a worse state.


Radiation may harm your stomach and intestines, as well as your blood vessels and bone marrow, which produces blood cells. The quantity of disease-fighting white blood cells in your body is reduced when your bone marrow is damaged. As a consequence, infections or internal bleeding kills the majority of persons who die from radiation illness.

Your doctor will make every effort to assist you in fighting infections. To restore lost blood cells, they may provide blood transfusions. They may also prescribe medicine to aid in the recovery of your bone marrow. They may also attempt a transplant.

They will also provide you with fluids and treat any other injuries you may have, such as burns. Radiation illness may take up to two years to recover from. 

However, you’ll still be at risk for additional health issues once you’ve recovered. That is why preventing the adverse radiation effect with radiation shielding is often a wise option.