Radiation Safety in Veterinary Medicine

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Radiation is used in a number of different treatments in veterinary medicine, with the greatest risk being not to the animals being treated but instead to the doctors and staff from repeated and prolonged exposure. Examine the potential negative effects of exposure and the important safety guidelines that regulate the use of radiation in veterinary clinics. Updated: 11/16/2021

Ionizing Radiation

Somewhere down the line, you may have heard that exposure to radiation is bad. It's partially true and partially not true; it depends on what kind of radiation we're talking about. If it's low energy radiation, like visible light, then you've got nothing to fear. However, the kind of radiation this lesson refers to is known as ionizing radiation, high energy radiation that produces charged particles called ions. In this lesson, when I say radiation, I'll be referring to this ionizing radiation.

This high energy radiation in small doses and infrequent exposure is actually of little threat to your health. But long term exposure to small amounts or exposure to large amounts over a short or long period of time has been linked to negative health effects. This lesson will go over some of these potential negative effects, as well as important points about radiation safety in the veterinary clinic.

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  • 0:01 Ionizing Radiation
  • 1:00 Possible Negative…
  • 1:58 Radiation Safety
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Possible Negative Effects of Radiation

You can think of a charged particle as a little bullet hitting a cell in your body. What would happen if a bullet hit anything in the real world, be it a watermelon, pop can, or wall? It would cause damage, wouldn't it?

Well, a particle of radiation is like a mini bullet hitting the cells that make up your body. One bullet need not cause serious damage. In fact, like repairmen can fix a wall damaged by a bullet, the cells in your body have repair mechanisms that can fix the damage caused by particles of radiation.

But imagine riddling a wall with thousands and thousands of bullets over time. That wall may reach a point beyond repair. Similarly, if too many radiation bullets hit your body's cells all at once or over time, it can cause irreparable damage to your body. Consequences of this include:

  • Genetic disorders and birth defects
  • Sterility, the inability to have children
  • Cataracts, cloudiness of the normally clear lens of the eye
  • Cancer

Radiation Safety

In a veterinary clinic, it is cumulative damage over a long period of time from the exposure to radiation equipment, such as X-ray machines, that is of the greatest threat to human health. To minimize this damage, it's important you follow important safety precautions. This includes:

  • Wearing lead-lined aprons, thyroid collars, specialized glasses, and lead-lined gloves when using radiographic equipment
  • Never placing any part of your body in the path of the primary beam, the main beam of radiation emitted from an X-ray tube - this includes a hand that is wearing a lead glove
  • Never holding a cassette onto which the primary beam is aimed, always use a cassette-holding device
  • Regularly testing lead-lined apparel for damage and replacing them as soon as possible are important things to do as well

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