Reduce Your Risk of Cataracts with Radiation Safety Glasses
Some eye injuries occur swiftly and catastrophically such as when a high-speed cutting wheel explodes and punctures an unprotected eye with a flying fragment. Most sensible people understand the need for eye protection from these kinds of dangers. On the other hand, slow-acting eye hazards, such as those causing cataracts, require years and possibly decades before their effects are even noticed.
It’s human nature to devalue long-term hazards because a problem that occurs years or decades in the future is too remote to feel like a threat. This is why many people approaching retirement age lack sufficient retirement funds, for example.
Cataracts are a remote threat that even professionals, who should know better, fail to protect against. Highly trained and educated doctors, researchers, and technicians are guilty of not wearing eye protection when working with x-ray machines. It’s easy to forgo and even forget about radiation safety glasses when typical x-ray exposure levels may not cause any noticeable vision symptoms for years.
Another reason people aren’t as concerned as they should be about cataracts is the multiplicity of factors contributing to their occurrence. Some people may feel there’s no point in protecting against x-ray exposure because other risk factors will also cause the problem.
However, many of these factors are controllable and won’t, in and of themselves, guarantee cataracts later in life. In fact, the overall risk can be diminished significantly by eliminating as many of these factors as possible. These include:
- Advancing age beyond 45 years. Genetics plays a large role in this.
- Diabetes. A healthy diet and lifestyle will minimize this factor.
- Certain medications. Some medications can accelerate cataract development.
- Smoking. Many individuals have successfully quit this habit.
- UV exposure. UVA exposure causes cumulative damage to the eye’s lens that eventually causes cataracts. UV blocking sunglasses eliminate this risk factor.
- Obesity. A healthy diet and lifestyle will also minimize this problem.
- X-ray exposure. Consistent use of radiation safety glasses eliminates this risk.
The lens of a healthy eye should be clear. When a cataract is present, the lens appears clouded. In advanced cases, the lens is completely opaque, which blinds the person in that eye. In less advanced cases, objects appear blurred, colors are faded, and night vision becomes difficult. These effects are similar to looking through a frosted glass pane. Lighting appears dimmer and halos or starbursts appear around lights. In addition, double vision can occur from the affected eye. These effects occur when light becomes scattered or diffused as it passes through the clouded portion of the lens.
Although someone with mild cataract development might see well enough to walk around unaided, night driving can be difficult and dangerous. The opacity of the affected lens blocks out some of the light, which makes a night scene appear even darker. Road glare, especially from oncoming traffic is worsened by the condition. Such a person endangers both herself and others on the road.
Obviously, changing glasses prescriptions won’t counter the long-term effects of lens clouding, and correcting the condition will require surgery. This usually involves replacing the affected lens with an artificial lens.
Radiation Safety Glasses Ensure Protection from X-Ray Exposure
Depending on individual work circumstances, unprotected eyes receive varying degrees of x-ray exposure. For example, industrial uses of x-rays, such as checking machine parts, pipelines, or welds for defects and cracks, can expose technicians to varying amounts of x-ray scatter depending on the testing setup and the geometry of the tested part. Circumstances may allow the person to perform the test from a protected control room. This is less likely when testing outdoor objects in the field.
This variability of exposure is also present among professionals in the healthcare field. Dentists and orthopedists typically take multiple x-ray images of their patients. Unless they’re inside a remote and protected room, they may be exposed to low doses of scattered x-rays. Years of exposure to very low doses, considered safe years ago, may lead to cataracts over the course of a long career.
However, the situation is worse for professionals who rely on real-time x-ray “movies,” such as fluoroscopy radiologists, who view “dyes” moving through the gastrointestinal tract. Interventional surgery may also require continuous x-rays to view, in real time, catheter insertions through blood vessels or the heart. Doctors in these situations cannot stand inside a remote control room because they must be next to the patient in order to perform the procedure. Nearby nurses and technicians also receive considerable exposure to low-level x-rays.
Clearly, professionals involved in fluoroscopy and interventional surgery should wear radiation safety glasses in order to avoid eye cataract formation later in life. On the other hand, the safety guards employed by professionals who take x-ray images may not always function as they should. When this happens, x-ray exposure may be significantly higher than expected. In this case, radiation safety glasses are the last point of defense. The simple act of wearing them guarantees protection.
The ALARA Principle and Radiation Safety Glasses
ALARA stands for “as low as reasonably achievable.” This safety principle holds that any amount of radiation exposure, even small levels, can potentially cause harmful effects. If the radiation exposure of a procedure is already within a “safe” threshold, the ALARA principle states it should be reduced further if it’s reasonably achievable. There are three ways of reducing exposure:
- Reduce exposure time. The total received dosage is equal to the average dose rate times the exposure time. Therefore, reducing exposure time reduces the total dosage. Since radiation damage to human tissue is cumulative, less exposure means less potentially harmful damage.
- Increase distance from the radiation source. Like all electromagnetic waves, x-ray intensity reduces by the square of the distance from the source. For example, tripling your distance reduces your exposure by a factor of nine. Medical professionals should increase their distance from an x-ray device with leakage and from the source of x-ray scatter, which is typically the patient.
- Use shielding. Use lead radiation shielding in the form of enclosures and other barriers, as well as protection worn on the health professional’s person, such as neck collars, aprons, and radiation safety glasses.
The ALARA principle is yet another reason for consistently wearing radiation safety glasses, even when x-ray exposure levels are within the established “safe” thresholds. Increasing your risk of eye cataracts later in life is needless when the solution is as simple as wearing protective eyewear when conducting an x-ray procedure. To learn more about radiation eyewear and for answers to your questions, contact us today.