We all know ionizing radiation can be deadly, but how exactly does it damage the body? What does it do on a molecular level?

SeekerPublished: July 11, 2018
Published: July 11, 2018

You've probably seen acute radiation poisoning on TV, people wrapped in bandages, and such... but chances are you don't know what's going on there. So, let's shed some visible light radiation on this mystery.

There are a few kinds of radiation. Some is light or heat, but the kind that damages tissue is called ionizing radiation.  Ionizing radiation comes in high-energy waves like x-rays and gamma rays, or from nuclear material via particle decay. This kind of radiation can damage atoms, which can affect whole molecules (like DNA), and that can affect your cells, organs and whole body.  For example: your cells are comprised of water, H2O; which, if broken apart by radiation can reform as O2 or H2 or H2O2 -- hydrogen peroxide! Not great. Of course, this all depends on dosage. Theoretically, ionizing radiation has no safe dosage.

When you get a dose of radiation, specialists use Sieverts to calculate how much they used, and Gray for the actual absorption of radiation into tissue. A dental or stomach x-ray might be like 8 milliGrays (i.e. not many) or 8 milliSieverts. Repeated, low-level exposure (like tanning, or working near nuclear material) can cause cancer, but when lots of ionizing radiation hits you at once... it causes acute radiation poisoning. That is serious. And it comes in four phases

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This video, "We all know ionizing radiation can be deadly, but how exactly does it damage the body? What does it do on a molecular level?", first appeared on seeker.com.

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