The Fine Art of X-ray Protection

The Importance of Radiation Safety & Minimizing Exposure

Let’s start with the physics: Similar to light from a light bulb, X-rays consist of photons, discrete packets of energy that can be interpreted as particles. Visible light is reflected and absorbed from objects that we consider to be opaque. Transparent objects such as glass allow light to pass through, hence their transparency.

Imagine a scenario where a filament lightbulb sits in the centre of a glass structure and your objective is to prevent any light from leaving the structure. There are multiple ways of providing a solution to this situation, from placing a cardboard box over the bulb to lining the glass with paper. But what if the light bulb didn’t emit visible light, but instead X-rays?

Despite existing as the same fundamental particle, there is one key difference between the two types of electromagnetic radiation, the wavelength of light. X-rays have a much shorter wavelength than visible light and can therefore penetrate through much more than visible light making the cardboard box and paper transparent in terms of X-rays.

Not only can X-rays and gamma rays penetrate through cardboard, but also the likes of brick, plaster, wood, and many other materials used in the make-up of a building. Most importantly, this radiation can also pass through biological matter such as ourselves, and this can have serious adverse effects over time if not protected against. So how do we stop X-rays in their path?

lead lined door - Raybloc X-Ray Protection

Methods of Minimising Radiation Risk

With shorter wavelengths of light, we have higher energy photons beaming through the air. This increased level of energy allows these particles to pass directly through low-density materials such as the aforementioned cardboard/paper box, and even semi-dense materials such as bricks and hardwood. The higher the energy of the X-ray, the more difficult it becomes to provide a barrier against it and the more effect it will have on biological tissue. In some applications, this is necessary for the radiation source to have its desired effect on the patient, but the energy of the radiation should be kept to a viable minimum to avoid the associated costs. In most instances of X-ray usage, a high-density metal no thicker than a couple of millimetres is an effective barrier to stopping this ionising radiation.

Protective Materials

The most cost-effective high-density metal that is practical for lining a room is lead. Lead is a soft, malleable metal with a high density, making it relatively heavy. It is this weight that enables lead to be so effective as a radiation-protective material. This is a great method for shielding a controlled area where space is a concern, but although the cheapest metal to line a room – there are cheaper alternatives.

Lead is capable of stopping most X-rays with a thickness between 1-3mm. This is ideal as the lead is not taking up much space and it can also be concealed within the likes of doors, control booths, and walls. However, if it is not necessary for the X-ray shielding to be this thin, then concrete is your cheapest bet. Concrete is a mid-density material as we discussed earlier, but it can also be made as thick as necessary to dissipate the energy of the ionising radiation.

This is a popular choice in nuclear applications as they often have a lot more room to work with, and the high-intensity levels of radiation in these scenarios would mean an eye-watering cost of lead would be required in place of the concrete.

Time, Distance, and Shielding

Just like our light bulb analogy, the further you are from the light source, the dimmer the light gets and therefore the intensity of the photons becomes weaker over distance. The same is true for ionizing radiation, and therefore the closer the shielding needs to be to the radiation source, the greater the requirement of shielding needs to be to prevent radiation exposure.

The same is also true for the amount of time the radiation is being emitted – a good analogy for this is how UV light from the sun over time causes the skin to tan or burn. Long durations times of radiation emission will mean that the level of protection will be required to be greater to stop any ‘tanning’ from happening on the other side. This is known as your radiation dose and must be kept below a certain level to prevent you from experiencing the adverse effects of a high amount of radiation exposure.

With these factors being taken into account, the further away your radiation source is from your barrier and the less time it is active, the less shielding you will require for that particular barrier – this should be taken into account when positioning the likes of X-ray equipment. Fortunately, radiation is most commonly used in medical imaging where the time of application is extremely short and the exposure to radiation is low, this is especially true of dental X-ray imaging.

Protective Equipment

Once the room has been protected with the correct levels of lead-lined shielding, we now have a room structure in which X-rays cannot escape beyond a regulated level of intensity. To complete this shielding element, the point of access to the room must be protected also. This is where Raybloc radiation protective doorsets come into play.

A Raybloc radiation protective door set includes a frame, architrave and the door itself, all of which are entirely lead lined throughout ensuring no X-rays can leak out between any joints, whilst concealing the lead so it cannot be seen. This is done in-house by professional carpenters, performed to a high standard and pre-hung in our workshops to ensure a perfect fit. Double doors are crafted with a rebated meeting stile or with an astragal meeting stile, both of which offer complete protection against radiation leakage from between the doors – a vital feature of a lead-lined doorset.

The structure is now blocking harmful radiation waves from leaving the room, but what if we require to be inside of this room and with a visual of the patient for examination purposes whilst still being personally shielded from radiation? Fortunately, Raybloc also offers lead-lined operator screens, and internal windows for instances where transparency is required for viewing whilst remaining protected from ionising radiation.

The lead glass used in these products and in vision panels in doorsets is as protective as the lead used in the solid components of our products but requires a greater thickness to achieve the same equivalence. Using a compound of lead within the glass, radiation shielding glass can be manufactured, that is transparent to visible light, yet prevents radiation such as X-rays from passing through.

Mobile X-ray Screens

Innovations in X-ray Protection

Radiation shielding is only a portion of the story when it comes to the real-life application; cladding a room with sheets of lead may prevent the radiation from leaking out, but is it practical?

This is a question that the team at Raybloc often ask as we are always looking to remain the innovators within the radiation protection industry. Our goal is to make the day-to-day lives of the staff and patients who are at radiation risk due to exposure that bit easier and to provide the confidence that they will be shielded to the highest available standard. So, what are some of the things that Raybloc have done to achieve this?

Hygienic Warning Signage With Improved Visibility

Back in 2013, Raybloc pioneered the flush-mounted warning light – an alternative to the conventional boxed warning light that would usually be positioned to the sides or above the door, enabling the signage to go into the face of the door with an easy wipe-clean surface. This helped improve the visibility of the signage as it meant there was zero ambiguity about what the sign was for, and it also removed any dust traps that came with the wall-mounted box warning lights.

Improved Visibility for Operator Control Booths

2018 was the year the new type of radiation protective screen was introduced to the UK – the modular screen, or what is now called the frameless operator screen. The frameless screen eliminates the bulky frame of standard control booths, opting for smooth vertical posts that come flush with the screen panel and a polished glass edge along the top of the screen.

Not only does this look more aesthetically pleasing, but it also reduces the surface area for infection control purposes and effectively increases visibility through the control booth, opening the confined space of a controlled area up and improving communication between the radiographer and the patient. Radiology has never been a more comforting environment with the modern touch of a frameless operator screen.

Final Thoughts

So, there we have it, a lead-lined room with accessibility and vision into the room, achieved with Raybloc’s specialist Door sets, X-ray Protective Screens and Window-Sets, and with no radiation leakage, much like what would be required for rooms involved in CT, PET and X-ray scans.

FAQs

What are the primary risks associated with X-ray exposure?

Exposure to X-rays, particularly at high doses or over an extended period, can pose certain risks to health. The primary risks associated with X-ray exposure include:

  1. Radiation-induced cancer: Prolonged or repeated exposure to X-rays can increase the risk of developing cancer, primarily in the organs and tissues exposed to the radiation.
  2. Genetic effects: X-rays can cause damage to DNA, and in some cases, this damage may be passed on to future generations. The risk of genetic mutations and hereditary disorders increases with higher doses of radiation.
  3. Acute radiation sickness: High-dose exposure to X-rays in a short period can lead to acute radiation sickness, also known as radiation poisoning. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, hair loss, and in severe cases, organ failure.
  4. Reproductive risks: Exposure to X-rays during pregnancy can potentially harm the developing fetus. It is important for pregnant women to inform healthcare providers about their pregnancy before undergoing any X-ray examinations.
  5. Thyroid problems: The thyroid gland is sensitive to radiation, and high doses of X-rays can increase the risk of thyroid disorders, including hypothyroidism or thyroid cancer.

To mitigate these risks, medical professionals follow strict safety protocols when performing X-ray examinations. They use the ALARA principle (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) to minimise radiation exposure by using the lowest possible dose that provides diagnostic information. Aprons and collars are often used to protect the patient’s body parts not under examination from unnecessary exposure. It’s important to note that the benefits of medical X-ray procedures usually outweigh the risks when used judiciously for diagnostic purposes.

What types of protective equipment and materials are used in X-ray protection?

Various protective equipment and materials are utilised to minimise radiation exposure during X-ray procedures. Here are some examples:

  1. Lead aprons: Lead is a highly effective material for attenuating X-rays. Lead aprons are commonly worn by patients during X-ray examinations to protect their vital organs from unnecessary radiation exposure.
  2. Lead gloves and thyroid shields: For healthcare professionals who are frequently exposed to X-rays, lead gloves are available to protect their hands from radiation. Thyroid shields are specialised lead collars that protect the thyroid gland, which is particularly sensitive to radiation.
  3. Lead glasses: Lead glasses with protective leaded lenses are worn by medical staff to shield their eyes from scattered radiation. These glasses help prevent long-term eye damage caused by prolonged exposure to X-rays.
  4. Gonadal shielding: When performing X-rays in the pelvic or lower abdominal region, leaded gonadal covers may be used to protect the reproductive organs from radiation. This is especially important for patients of childbearing age.
  5. Radiation barriers: Lead-lined walls, doors, and windows are installed in radiology rooms to contain and reduce the spread of radiation to adjacent areas. These barriers help protect staff and other individuals in the vicinity from unnecessary exposure.
  6. Collimators and filters: X-ray machines are equipped with collimators and filters to restrict the X-ray beam to the targeted area and reduce unnecessary radiation. Collimators shape and direct the X-ray beam, while filters remove low-energy X-rays that are not needed for diagnostic purposes.

It’s important to note that the use of protective equipment should be in accordance with established safety guidelines and standards such as those provided by a radiation protection advisor to ensure effective radiation protection for both patients and healthcare professionals.

How can I minimise my exposure to X-ray radiation during medical procedures?

Medical imaging personnel adhere to stringent safety protocols during X-ray examinations to ensure patient well-being. They adhere to the ALARA principle (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) to minimise radiation exposure while maintaining diagnostic efficacy. Protective aprons and collars are routinely employed to protect un-targeted body areas from unnecessary medical radiation. It is worth emphasising that the advantages of medical X-ray procedures generally surpass the associated risks when utilised prudently for diagnostic intentions.

To know more about Raybloc’s specialist shielding products, call our team of experts on 01902 633 383.

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