Fears that Russia may launch a nuclear attack have prompted panic purchases of a radiation-blocking chemical in the United States and Europe. After being swamped with demand, the main distributors of the tablets, which can reverse the symptoms of radiation exposure, have rushed to produce more.
But what exactly is potassium iodide? Can it really help in the case of a nuclear problem? How does it work? Should people take it on their own?
Here are the things you should know.
What is Potassium Iodide (KI)?
Potassium iodide (KI) is a non-radioactive form of iodine that can be used to prevent the thyroid from absorbing one type of radioactive material, radioactive iodine (I-131).
To loosen and break up mucus in the airways, potassium iodide is employed. If you have long-term lung difficulties, this helps you cough out the mucus so you can breathe more comfortably (such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema). An expectorant is a kind of medicine. Potassium iodide is also used in conjunction with antithyroid medications to prepare the thyroid gland for surgery, to treat hyperthyroidism, and to protect the thyroid in the event of a radiation exposure emergency. It works by reducing the size of the thyroid gland and lowering thyroid hormone production.
Radioactive iodine may be discharged into the environment in some radiation events, such as nuclear power plant accidents, and enter the body by inhaling or eating. Internal contamination is the term for this. High quantities of radioactive iodine absorbed by the thyroid can raise the risk of thyroid cancer in newborns, children, and young people for many years following exposure. The thyroid is a gland in the neck that is involved in a variety of bodily activities.
How does KI work?
Iodine comes in two forms: KI and radioactive iodine. The thyroid absorbs both of them. To be effective, KI must be taken before to or shortly after exposure to radioactive iodine. When a person consumes the proper quantity of KI at the right time, it can help prevent radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the thyroid.
Because the thyroid has already absorbed the KI, there is no place for the radioactive iodine to be absorbed. Consider putting blue marbles in a container. If you then pour green marbles into the jar, there won’t be enough room for them and they’ll fall out.
However, keep in mind that if you’re in a location where a radiation emergency has occurred, the most effective solution is to evacuate. Potassium iodide can be used as a precautionary measure, but it should not be your choice of solution for any potential nuclear problem.
How To Take Potassium Iodide?
Only take potassium iodide if your state or local health officials recommend it. In the event of an emergency, health officials will issue a statement. When it’s safe for you to take potassium iodide, your health department will let you know. They’ll also let you know when it’s safe to stop taking the drug.
If you’re prescribed KI, you’ll take it before or shortly after being exposed to radioactive iodine. It’s also possible to take it three to four hours later, although it’ll be less effective.
What KI Cannot Do For You
It’s possible that KI won’t provide 100 percent protection. When administered immediately before or after internal contamination with radioactive iodine, KI is most effective. The efficiency of KI is also determined by the amount of radioactive iodine that enters the body and how rapidly it is absorbed.
Only adults under the age of 40, as well as pregnant or nursing women, should use KI. People with specific medical issues, such as known iodine sensitivity, should avoid taking KI or consult with a healthcare expert to see if it is safe for them to do so.
Other forms of radiation, not just radioactive iodine, will be used in most radiation crises. Nuclear power plant accidents are most commonly associated with radioactive iodine. In a radiation emergency, the greatest precaution is to get indoors, stay inside, and wait for additional information from officials.
Why is There a Sudden Surge in KI Demand?
The escalating conflict in Ukraine has resulted in an unexpected increase in demand for potassium iodide tablets. The threat of radioactive fallout from inadvertent or deliberate strikes on Ukraine’s nuclear reactors has sparked the uptick.
If such an assault occurs, radioactive iodine will be released into the environment, which might be absorbed by the lungs or thyroid glands.
Since the Russian invasion began, the stocks of manufacturers in the United States have been reduced. As a result, the price of potassium iodide pills in the United States has risen.
Fearing an escalation in Russia’s assault on Ukraine, several Europeans have begun stockpiling iodine pills. Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement that his nuclear deterrent forces would be placed on high alert, approximately 30,000 Belgians went to pharmacies for complimentary tablets.
Potential Side Effects of Potassium Iodide Misuse
KI has the potential to be damaging to one’s health and can trigger allergic responses. When KI is not taken exactly as prescribed by a physician or public health expert, the chance of injury increases.
The overall advantages of thyroid blocking with KI during a nuclear emergency, when administered as directed by public health authorities, will outweigh the dangers of adverse effects in all age categories. In children and young adults, KI side effects are uncommon when the proper dosage is followed. Mild allergic reactions, skin rashes, and stomach discomfort are possible side effects.
The risk of KI-related adverse effects rises with age, although the danger of radiation-induced thyroid cancer in those over 40 is minimal. As a result, thyroid blocking with KI is not recommended in individuals over the age of 40, with the exception of emergency responders.
Individuals with pre-existing thyroid diseases, which are more frequent in older adults and the elderly than in children and young adults, may have rare adverse effects of KI on thyroid function. Individuals who take a dose of KI that is greater than advised or who receive many doses of KI are more prone to have side effects.
Before You Go
Potassium iodide is available without a prescription. It’s available over-the-counter at your local pharmacy or drugstore. Potassium iodide can be ordered online if it isn’t accessible locally. Make sure the version you buy has been authorized by the FDA.