• Question: What could are some of the effects of radiation and solar bursts on the human body?

    Asked by haydenb to Kevin, Katie, Jon, Floris, Delma, Beth, Adrian on 6 Jan 2016.
    • Photo: Kevin Fong

      Kevin Fong answered on 6 Jan 2016:

      High energy, ionising radiation is nasty stuff if you are exposed to too much of it. You can think radiation as being like bullets smaller than the size of an atom. They can be packets of energy or actual particles.

      The sort of damage it causes depends on the amount of radiation you absorb, the type of radiation and the part of the body affected.

      Broadly speaking you can divide the damage up into short term problems and long term problems. The short term problems include severe burns and problems caused by damage to the body’s DNA.

      As you know DNA provides the blueprint that cells use to copy themselves and make brand new cells. If this blueprint of a cell becomes damaged by radiation then the new copies of that cell become faulty.

      The most rapidly dividing cells in your body are the worst affected – because the more times you try to make a copy from a damaged DNA blueprint the greater the chance of a mistake being made.

      The most rapidly dividing cells are those in your skin, your hair follicles, the lining of your gut and your bone marrow – all of which divide very rapidly.

      And so when you suffer from acute radiation poisoning are your hair falls out, you vomit and have diarrhoea because of the damage to your gut lining, you’re pale and anaemic because the bone marrow doesn’t produce as many red blood cells, you’re prone to infection because the bone marrow doesn’t produce many white blood cells and you get sores in your skin.

      Even if you survive the short term problems, there are long term issues to deal with. Damage to DNA can dramatically increase the risk of cancer to your body in later life.