One of the potential health risks of radioactive fallout is thyroid cancer. The thyroid gland is one of the most sensitive parts of the human body to radioactive iodine. If radioactive iodine is present, the thyroid glad will absorb it. One way to stop this from happening is to flood the thyroid with potassium iodide (KI) so that the thyroid cannot absorb the radioactive iodine. Potassium iodide tablets are an inexpensive item that should be in everyone’s “fallout kit”. There are also liquid KI solutions available but they are a little harder to locate. It is best to purchase these ahead of a radioactive emergency because as we witnessed during the Fukushima meltdown, prices can quadruple and supplies are exhausted quickly. Keeping these tablets in your kit is the first step. The next step is learning how to properly use it. Misuse of potassium iodide can have serious adverse health effects.
Guidelines For Using Potassium Iodide
There are three factors that play into the effectiveness of potassium iodide in protecting the thyroid. The first factor is time. The sooner you take it after an emergency, the more of a chance your thyroid has to absorb it and “fill up” before the radioactive iodine enters. The second is absorption. This depends on how fast the potassium iodide enters the bloodstream and can vary by person. The third is the dose of radioactive iodine in your environment. The faster you remove yourself from the effected area, the more effective the potassium iodide treatments will be. It should be noted that potassium iodide must be taken BEFORE the thyroid is exposed to radioactive iodine for it to do you any good.
Who should take potassium iodide?
The following information is from the CDC’s official statement on using potassium iodide…
Infants (including breast-fed infants)
Infants have the highest risk of getting thyroid cancer after being exposed to radioactive iodine. All infants, including breast-fed infants need to be given the dosage of KI (potassium iodide) recommended for infants.
Infants (particularly newborns) should receive a single dose of KI. More than a single dose may lead to later problems with normal development. Other protective measures should be used.
In cases where more than one dose is necessary, medical follow up may be necessary.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that all children internally contaminated with (or likely to be internally contaminated with) radioactive iodine take KI (potassium iodide), unless they have known allergies to iodine (contraindications).
The FDA recommends that young adults (between the ages of 18 and 40 years) internally contaminated with (or likely to be internally contaminated with) radioactive iodine take the recommended dose of KI (potassium iodide). Young adults are less sensitive to the effects of radioactive iodine than are children.
Because all forms of iodine cross the placenta, pregnant women should take KI (potassium iodide) to protect the growing fetus. Pregnant women should take only one dose of KI following internal contamination with (or likely internal contamination with) radioactive iodine.
Women who are breastfeeding should take only one dose of KI (potassium iodide) if they have been internally contaminated with (or are likely to be internally contaminated with) radioactive iodine. They should be prioritized to receive other protective action measures.
Adults older than 40 years should not take KI (potassium iodide) unless public health or emergency management officials say that contamination with a very large dose of radioactive iodine is expected.
Adults older than 40 years have the lowest chance of developing thyroid cancer or thyroid injury after contamination with radioactive iodine.
Adults older than 40 are more likely to have allergic reactions to or adverse effects from KI.
What are the CDC’s recommendations for dosage? According to their website, here are the doses for both adults and children…
Newborns from birth to 1 month of age should be given 16 mg (¼ of a 65 mg tablet or ¼ mL of solution). This dose is for both nursing and non-nursing newborn infants.
Infants and children between 1 month and 3 years of age should take 32 mg (½ of a 65 mg tablet OR ½ mL of solution). This dose is for both nursing and non-nursing infants and children.
Children between 3 and 18 years of age should take 65 mg (one 65 mg tablet OR 1 mL of solution). Children who are adult size (greater than or equal to 150 pounds) should take the full adult dose, regardless of their age.
Adults should take 130 mg (one 130 mg tablet OR two 65 mg tablets OR two mL of solution).
Women who are breastfeeding should take the adult dose of 130 mg.
What are some of the potential side effects?
The following side effects are possible. Stomach or gastro-intestinal upset, allergic reactions, rashes, and inflammation of the salivary glands. It may also cause rare adverse health effects related to the thyroid gland, usually from taking a higher than recommended dose, taking it for several days, or having pre existing thyroid problems. Newborn infants (less than 1 month old) who are given more than one dose of potassium iodide are at risk for developing a hypothyroidism. If not treated, hypothyroidism may cause brain damage.
These side effects from multiple doses make it very important to evacuate the area as soon as possible. Potassium iodide is an emergency measure meant to buy you time. It is not intended for long term use.
Potassium iodide is a useful tool for protecting the thyroid from radioactive iodine. It ONLY protects the thyroid and not any other part of the body. Pregnant women and young people are at the greatest risk from radioactive iodine. Side effects and adverse heath conditions increase with prolonged use of potassium iodide, making it important to evacuate the area as soon as possible.
Potassium Iodide Tablets can be purchased HERE
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