How much radiation is in a pediatric CT scan
While X-ray imaging exposes children to low doses of radiation, pediatric CT scans deliver about 200 times higher radiation exposure than other examinations.

Two of the radiology tests that are performed frequently on children are X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans.

  • The amount of radiation delivered is typically adjusted depending on the child’s age, body size, and the part of the body to be imaged.
  • If typical scanner settings are used, two to three CT heads may deliver a cumulative dose of 50 to 60 mGy.
  • This is, however, not always the case because pediatric protocols may be followed to ensure a lower radiation dose to children during a CT scan.

X-ray imaging provides information about the structures present in the body because it is a form of radiant energy. X-rays can penetrate easily through the body and provide the necessary information to healthcare providers. However, while doing so, children get exposed to low doses of radiation.

Certain kinds of imaging tests expose children to more radiation compared to others. For example, continuous X-ray is done in fluoroscopy exposes a child to more radiation than a single X-ray test.

However, a CT scan exposes children to more radiation than any other imaging test. The scanner is spun 360 degrees to take multiple images of the body; therefore, the test delivers about 200 times higher radiation than a standard X-ray examination.

A standard X-ray exposes to radiation that an individual usually receives from the environment in two to three days, but a standard chest CT exposes a child to two to three years of radiation from the environment in one sitting.

There are other types of medical imaging procedures as well that do not use radiation, such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging. Both tests help view soft tissues and internal organs within the body.

Why is radiation especially harmful to children?

Radiological tests are valuable tools for medical evaluation because it helps assess the situation of the affected correctly and provide proper diagnosis accordingly. However, these tests use radiation and when it comes to children, exposure to radiation through these radiological tests can increase the risk of cancer in the later stages.

Because kids are in their developmental stages of life, they are more sensitive and prone to the ill effects of radiation.

Effects of radiation on children

Continuous exposure to radiation causes damage to living tissues and alters DNA structures. In some extreme cases, it can lead to serious and potentially fatal diseases.

  • Radiation exposure from an X-ray imaging procedure usually does not produce any symptoms but the risk of developing cancer cells persists for children in later stages.
  • Researchers have not been able to detect the dose of radiation that causes cancer in children because cancer can be caused by various factors.
  • However, larger doses of radiation affect the reproductive cells of individuals, and small children develop the risk of tumors.
  • In some rare cases, children can develop skin burns too.

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How to limit radiation exposure in children

During testing, different parts of the body get exposed to radiation, which increases the risk of detrimental effects of radiation. Therefore, shielding can be used to lower radiation exposure. Using a lead apron can shield the other parts of the child’s body from the radiation of the tests.

X-rays are needed for medical evaluation, but certain measures can be taken to protect a child. Consult with the healthcare provider, and only get the imaging tests done if it is an absolute necessity. Allow the tests that have clear health benefits for the child.

  • It is not uncommon to observe children getting exposed to radiation doses similar to adults, especially if the pediatric imaging protocols are not followed.
  • The imaging test should be using the lowest dose of radiation necessary and only the area required should be exposed to radiation.
  • In such cases, parents should consider visiting children’s hospitals because facilities adjust the scanner according to the age of the individual.
  • Besides this, measures should be taken not to repeat scans unless specified by the healthcare professional.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/22/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

US Environmental Protection Agency. Radiation Health Effects. https://www.epa.gov/radiation/radiation-health-effects

Science Direct. Radiation Exposure. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/radiation-exposure