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Radiation Injury, Emergency Medicine

Reviewed 06/2017



  • Radiation in this chapter refers to ionizing radiation.

  • Alpha (α)—helium nucleus; does not penetrate skin

  • Beta (β)—electron; penetrates tissue a few cm

  • Gamma (γ)—photon; penetrates body

  • ...


  • Diagnosing contamination is fairly easy.

  • Diagnosing and quantifying exposure is more difficult and probably require expert consultation.

Signs and Symptoms


Personal protective equipment (PPE): 
  • Must provide protection from dust (particulate respirator; e.g., N-95, gown, gloves, hair, and shoe covers)

  • Radiography aprons are of no value—they do not...



Admission Criteria

  • Lymphocyte count <1,000 at 24–48 hr postexposure

  • Lymphocyte count decreased 50% at 24–48 hr

  • Suspect acute exposure >200 rad

  • Significant trauma or other illnes...

Pearls and Pitfalls

  • Emergency medical care takes precedence over decontamination:

    • No known case where a live, contaminated patient was so radioactive as to be an immediate hazard to emergency personnel

  • ...

Additional Reading

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Emergency Preparedness and Response: Radiation Emergencies. Available at

  • National Library of Medicine's ...



  • 508.0 Acute pulmonary manifestations due to radiation

  • 990 Effects of radiation, unspecified

  • V87.39 Contact with and (suspected) exposure to other potentially hazardous substances

  • 558.1 Gastroen...

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