There is a lot of talk about radiation and radiation effects because of the ongoing tragedy in Japan. It’s a bit overwhelming and confusing, to say the least. Ultimately, fear motivates us to act in bizarre ways and this current catastrophe in Japan is no exception. I find myself a bit nauseated when my mind drifts to Japan, yet I can’t seem to curb the urge to watch the updates. I don’t normally watch live news because I sincerely don’t think it’s good for me. But this horrific human tragedy steals me away from my typical distance while simultaneously reminding me of two quotes, one posted earlier:

Disasters are about people and planning, not nature’s pomp.” ~The Economist

and

Human inability to detect radiation can pose more of a psychological threat than a physical one. ~The Washington Post

The ongoing tragedy in Japan will help motivate us to prepare. But fear of the unknown can eat away at us, too. Anxiety surrounding Japan’s struggle may be higher than what we experience typically with catastrophic events, in part because of the complexity in understanding the effects of radiation. Because radiation is invisible to the eyes and undetectable to the nose, its presence is difficult to detect. We know that fear and anxiety are common in children affected by natural and radiation disasters but its psychological effect may be the most lasting and intrusive to health.

We can do things to protect our health, too. First, if your children are watching TV, sit with them and provide honest, age-appropriate explanations. Turn the TV off whenever possible. Next, discuss what your family is doing to help prepare for unexpected emergencies. Preparing your home and family for disasters with both a communication plan and an emergency kit can be a great way to decrease anxiety for both you and your children and will arm them with tools to protect themselves. A great antidote to fear is to regain your sense of control. I hope this post, and ongoing ones, help us all calm down.

The bottom line is this: with what we know now about Japan’s current disaster, even with the possible worsening nuclear crisis, medical countermeasure such as potassium iodide (KI) are not indicated here in the US. Don’t pop the Potassium Iodide (KI). And don’t feed it to your kids! Although Japan is advising KI use in the close vicinity to the damaged reactors, the US Nuclear Regulatory Agency and the Washington State Department of Health have both said that harmful effects of radiation are not expected in Hawaii or the US West Coast.

I believe every decision we make in medicine is a balance between risk and benefit, from intervention to doing nothing. This radiation question is no exception. Potassium iodide can protect the thyroid gland from the devastating effects of high levels of ionizing radiation. But, when used inappropriately or unnecessarily, potassium iodide has the potential to cause very serious side effects such has abnormal heart rhythms, bleeding, nausea, vomiting, and electrolyte abnormalities.

The risk of using KI far exceeds any benefit right now. Read full post »