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Radiation Protection Aprons: Health Protectors for Health Workers

Techno-Aide Vest-Wrap X-ray Apron - Female

Radiation-Aprons
The invention of x-ray machines is truly a huge development in the medical industry. Utilizing x-rays in medical imaging (such as radiology, ultrasound, and CT scan) allows doctors to view the internal organs and structures of a patient and identify if any medical treatment is necessary.

However, constant and frequent exposure to x-rays can be detrimental to a person’s health. Imagine how dangerous that could be for radiologists and doctors who use x-ray machines on a regular basis. Since stopping using x-ray machines is not an option, health workers need to use protective gears to avoid the negative effects of harmful x-rays. This is where radiation protection aprons come to play.

They are specialized clothing that can protect a health worker from x-ray radiation emitted by medical imaging machines. Their design can range from a small band that is wide enough to protect the neck up to a full-sized apron that covers the entire body. These aprons have a rubber outer surface and are padded with an insulating material that shields a person’s body from radiation.

The impact of radiation from x-ray, if it directly penetrates a person’s body, has been proven to cause major health issues such as tissue damage, organ failures, DNA malformations, and cancer. The insulating material absorbs the “shock” of x-ray radiation so it won’t directly impact a person’s body.

The most commonly used material for these protective aprons is lead, as it has a strong shielding power in a compact amount. A one-centimeter thick lead is already enough to block x-ray radiation, whilst steel needs to have a thickness of at least 2.5cm and concrete needs at least 6cm. It would be difficult to wear something that thick, right?

Despite being slightly heavy, lead aprons are ideal for health workers because they provide extensive protection with just the right amount of comfort. However, some manufacturers have innovated these aprons and combined other metallic materials in lieu of lead to make the aprons lighter and more comfortable.

Keep in mind that x-ray aprons are not like the typical kitchen apron that you use when cooking or cleaning. These specialized aprons contain a sheet of metal so they should be carefully handled and maintained.

Before using any protective apron, it is important to check it thoroughly for any damages. Inspect the inner and outer covering as well as the seams of the apron for any visible wear and tear. Check that all attachments such as belts, clips, or fasteners are secured and in good condition. Run your hands over the apron to see if there are any bumps, lumps, cracks, sagging, and inconsistencies. Should you find something, have the apron checked radiographically. The universal medical adage, “when in doubt, discard,” applies to these aprons as well.

The metal component is the most important part of these protective aprons. Be careful not to crease or tear the metal component of the apron as a slight damage on it could defeat the apron’s purpose and put a medical staff’s health at great risk. Unless designed for such purpose, never sit down when wearing an x-ray apron as this could crease the metal component. Avoid sharp and pointed objects that could tear the apron’s surface. Store the aprons carefully using special apron hangers or racks instead of folding them or hanging them over chair backs and other uneven surfaces.

These protective aprons can be exposed to dirt and grime, so it is vital to keep them clean to avoid damage to the metal component. Use cold water and mild detergent when cleaning the surface of the apron instead of bleach. Wipe the surfaces clean instead of soaking them in water. Machine laundering, autoclaving, and dry cleaning are strongly discouraged.

Constant exposure to x-ray radiation can deteriorate and weaken the metal component of radiation protection aprons after some time and this can lessen their effectiveness. Lead is a hazardous waste and it can be a toxic substance if disposed improperly; thus, protective aprons cannot be treated as normal trash. If possible, recycling protective aprons and using them for other purposes that can fit them is highly encouraged.

Should a lead apron need to be disposed, contact a disposal service company for proper handling and disposal. Other aprons with a different metal component may not need special disposal instructions, but, as the medical adage goes, when in doubt, discard and dispose it properly.

Radiation protection aprons are an efficient tool for medical staff, radiologists, and doctors in protecting their own health. With proper care and handling, these protective aprons can help health workers ensure the health of their patients more efficiently.

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Lead Aprons – What You Need to Know

Techno-Aide Vest-Wrap X-ray Apron - Male

Radiation-Aprons

A lead apron is a wearable device that protects the body’s organs from dangerous radiation such as from x-rays and gamma rays. It is composed of a rubberized sheet with lead within it, and the entire thing is formed into an apron.

Purpose

A lead apron’s purpose serves as radiation protection during procedures such as the following:

  • Computed tomography
  • Fluoroscopy
  • Radioscopy
  • Dental radiographs

Lead aprons are needed for these imaging tests and other situations that involve radiation because these rays can damage living tissue. If the radiation is too much for the body to handle, the following may occur:

  • Radiation sickness
  • Burns
  • Tissue damages
  • DNA malformations
  • Cancer
  • Organ failure

Lead aprons often protect the following body parts because they are the most vulnerable:

Reproductive Organs – Radiation can affect reproductive cells (i.e. the egg cells of women and the sperm cells of men) and alter the DNA within them. This will result in genetic abnormalities in babies conceived by couples who have been exposed to such radiation. Other than that, intense radiation may cause sterility in people.

Thyroid Gland – The thyroid gland is vulnerable to radiation. It’s because it absorbs iodine from the blood even if the iodine has become radioactive because of radiation. This gland can develop cancer if it has been exposed to radiation for prolonged periods of time.

Take note that the entire body needs to be protected from radiation, but aprons cover only some body parts. For additional protection, you may need to wear accessories such as radiation glasses. Aprons usually have flaps that reach up to the neck and down to the knees. Thyroid collars protect the neck area as well.

Who Needs Lead Aprons?

Everyone who works with radiation needs some form of protection such as radiation aprons. The need for these may be classified into three types: occupational, medical, and public.

Occupational – People may have jobs that involve handling radioactive substances. Scientists, laboratory researchers, and even assembly line workers need these aprons as they go about their work.

Medical – Medical professionals such as doctors, radiation therapists, and medical technicians may be exposed to radioactive hazards. The patients who go to these professionals for diagnosis and therapy are exposed to those same hazards.

Public – There may be times when the general public becomes exposed to radiation. Examples of these scenarios are during radioactive spills or meltdowns at nuclear power plants. Exposure may also happen if people live near an industrial facility that releases radiation into the surroundings.

When is a Lead Apron Needed?

If people or operators need to be in the same room as a radioactive substance or device, or if they are very close to one, they need to wear protection such as lead aprons.

Why Lead?

The ability of a material to reduce the intensity of radiation is dependent on how thick it is. The shielding power is measured by the halving thickness which is the thickness of material that reduces the radiation into one half of its original strength.

Lead has a strong shielding power and it only takes 1 cm of lead to halve radiation. Steel comes next, with a 2.5 cm halving thickness, while concrete needs to be 6.1 cm thick to produce the same effect.

Lead is an ideal shielding material because it is very dense. Its high density is a result of its massiveness (It contains a large number of electrons.) and its ability to be compressed into tiny spaces. Because of these features, it can effectively scatter harmful rays and render them harmless.

Without a lead shield, the electrons that form a person’s body will receive the full impact of the radiation. To prevent this from happening, the lead is fashioned into an apron so it can cover the body and absorb the shock. However, lead can’t keep this up indefinitely and it will wear down gradually every time it is used. This is why the aprons need to be checked via fluoroscopy and replaced after a specific period of time or if they show any signs of damage.

Ensuring their Effectiveness

To help preserve these aprons’ effectiveness, you should take proper care of them at all times. I have a provided a couple of tips on how you could achieve that.

  1. Do not fold your lead aprons so as to avoid damaging their linings. You should instead store them properly such as on racks that are designed specifically for them.
  2. Wear your aprons properly at all times. Not only will this prevent the aprons from getting damaged, it will also ensure your body is adequately protected when you come in contact with radiation.

 

Lots of people get their lead aprons from Kemper Medical, an established manufacturer of reliable radiation protection gear; perhaps you should, too!

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What to Consider When Buying Lead aprons

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Radiation-Aprons

Lead aprons are vital in shielding people from the harmful effects of radioactivity. They work by absorbing rays and halting their movement towards the person or object they are protecting. There are many varieties of these aprons available, so you probably might have a little difficulty in choosing one to fit your needs. I have provided a short guide on how these aprons serve their purpose and what you should consider when buying one for your use.

Energy Potential of the Radiation

The lead thickness of the apron will depend on the energy potential of the radioactive machine being used. This is measured in kilovolt peaks (kVps) for diagnostic equipment and megavolt potential (mVps) for radiation therapy devices.

Listed below are some recommended lead thicknesses for particular applications:

  • X-ray for general medical diagnosis (150 kVp): 0.50 mm
  • X-ray for general medical diagnosis (100-140 kVp): 0.35 mm
  • Computerized Tomography (100-140 kVp): 0.35 mm
  • X-ray for general medical diagnosis (below 100 kVp): 0.25 mm
  • Dental x-ray (below 100 kVp): 0.25 mm
  • Veterinary x-ray (below 100 kVp): 0.25 mm
  • DXA type bone mineral densinometry units: lead apron unnecessary

Radiation Type

The protective layer of the apron will vary depending on the kind and strength of radiation that it is intended to withstand:

  • Beta rays do not require the usage of lead aprons; lighter materials such as Plexiglas may be enough to stop these rays from harming body tissues.
  • X-rays generated by machines are usually high powered; thus, lead is used to protect people from them.
  • Gamma rays are more powerful than x-rays. As such, nothing less than a thick panel can protect you from this kind of radiation.

 

Distance

Radiation scatters more as the distance increases between the target and the radiation source. The nearer the subject is to the source of radiation, the more lead is required to shield the subject. The radiologist will consider the patient or object’s body position and the distance between the machine and the recipient of the radiation.

Orientation

The orientation of the radiation machine relative to the apron is considered when calculating its necessary thickness. It’s because the lead in the apron will scatter the radiation directed at it. The radiation specialist will estimate the expected movement of the rays as they encounter objects along their way.

Workload

The estimated frequency of usage of the apron will determine the level of lead shielding needed. Of course, you will need a sturdier apron if you see yourself using one regularly.

Available Materials

The thickness of the lead may be lessened if there are other materials in the room that serve as protection from radiation.

Remember to check your lead aprons during the following instances:

  • Upon purchase
  • Before using
  • After a regular period
  • At least once a year
  • When damage is suspected

Defects are best detected with imaging techniques such as through fluoroscopy or computerized tomography, but these defects can also be seen normally. If there are holes, tears, creases, or spots on the material, alert the radiologists and/or the manufacturer. The following are some things to watch out for:

  • A torn area or a hole that is bigger than 5 mm
  • Several tiny spots grouped together
  • Dark lines
  • Thinning areas on the material

Inform the manufacturer or the personnel responsible for the lead aprons if you have observed anomalies on the products. Defective products need to be replaced right away to ensure your safety.

Pros and Cons

Lead aprons are more reliable and cheaper than other shielding materials. However, they can be heavy and they require a lot of maintenance. This should not pose a problem, though, because there are lead-based aprons that are made of a composite material that is lighter than traditional lead. Also, radiology specialists are well-trained on how to maintain the proper functioning of these kinds of aprons.

Budget

Such as with all kinds of medical devices, shielding equipment prices vary according to brands. Be diligent when you shop around since you will eventually come across aprons that fit your budget.

For your safety, do some research the background of the brands selling radiation protection aprons and check for their credibility. There are reviews and feedback of these items available online. If you want to know where you can get a lead apron, I strongly recommend Kemper Medical, a global distributor of high-class yet affordable medical supplies, as a viable source of lead aprons and other radiation protection gear.