Xrays and Children

X-rays are a naturally occurring form of radiation that is used in medical imaging procedures. With the X-ray imaging, healthcare providers gain information about structures inside the body. Unfortunately, during the imaging procedures, the X-rays expose patients to low doses of radiation. Most providers feel that the benefits of X-ray scans outweigh the potential risks of radiation exposure. If your child needs an X-ray, you may be concerned about exposing your child to radiation. More information on X-rays and radiation exposure for children are provided below.

Are X-rays Safe?

Naturally occurring radiation is around us all the time and therefore we are exposed to small amounts of radiation every day. Radiation can damage tissues in the body and alter DNA. In very large doses, radiation can cause severe sickness and death. The level of exposure of radiation in X-rays is incredibly low and unlikely to cause any side effects or increased risk.

Why Might a Child Need an X-ray?

There are many reasons why a child might need an X-ray, ranging from a broken bone to stomach pain. X-rays are especially important for providing medical and dental providers information about the tissues, bones, and organs in the body. X-rays can also help with other medical procedures, including placing devices in the body or giving ongoing information during a surgical procedure.

Risks of Radiation Exposure from X-rays to Children

The main concern is that repetitive low dose radiation exposure may slightly increase your child’s risk of cancer later in life. Certain X-ray imaging procedures expose your child to more radiation than others. For example, a standard X-ray of the chest provides about the same amount of radiation that you would normally get from background environmental sources, but a CT scan exposes your child to much more radiation than a single X-ray image. This is why many healthcare providers don’t worry about radiation exposure from a single X-ray.

Not surprisingly, X-rays that involve more of the body will expose your child to more radiation than X-rays over a smaller part of the body. There are different small steps that providers can take to help minimize radiation exposure to children. Shielding other parts of your child’s body with a lead apron will help reduce your child’s overall radiation exposure. However, each additional X-ray scan is an additional radiation exposure, and depending on the type, strength, and other factors, will contribute to your child's total future risk of developing cancer. Overall, a child who has had dozens of CT scans in their young life may be at a higher risk of problems from radiation than a child who has only had a few basic X-ray scans of their mouth.

The risks of radiation exposure may sound scary, but it is important to remember that there are many other benefits of X-ray medical imaging that need to be weighed in the balance of pros and cons. Your child’s healthcare provider is aware of steps they can take to minimize risk and will consider the importance of testing to avoid unneeded risks.

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