Protecting Your Family After Radioactive Iodine Treatment

Children and Infants Are Especially at Risk

radioactive radiation thyroid nuclear

If Radioactive Iodine treatment – also known as RAI – is recommended as part of your treatment for Graves’ disease, hyperthyroidism, or thyroid cancer, in the United States, you will most likely be given the RAI as an outpatient.

The concern is that the radioactive iodine -- Iodine 131—used has the ability to affect people and pets around you, but infants and children are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of Iodine 131 on their thyroid glands.

Since most RAI is given on an outpatient basis, it is really your responsibility as a patient to protect your family and children, as well as people around you.

The following recommendations give you an idea of the types of things you need to do to protect children, family and the public. The recommended timeframes are based on the size of the dosage you are receiving, so discuss all the specifics with your doctor prior to RAI treatment.

Minimizing Radiation Risks

Here are some ways to minimize radiation risks for your children and family after you have had RAI treatment:

  • Stay at least 6 feet away from other people – members of the public, family members, children, co-workers, etc. – for a period of 3 to 11 days. This means avoiding public transportation, hotels, carpools, and in some cases, your workplace. It also means sleeping apart from adults by at least six feet – a separate bedroom is recommended, as well as no kissing or sexual activity.
  • Sleep in a bed separate from pregnant partners – up to 23 days. • If separation is not possible, you should isolate yourself to an area of your home that can be used exclusively by you for the specified timeframe. In particular, a bathroom should not be shared.
  • After RAI, it is recommended that there be no proximity to – including sleeping in the same bed with -- a pregnant woman, infant or child for a period of 15 to 23 days. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ideally, infants and children should stay outside the home for the recommended period.
  • To protect the family pets, you should not sleep with them for up to 21 days.

Household Recommendations

There are also some household issues that can help reduce radiation exposure risks to others, including the following:

  • Do not share any towels, razors, toothbrushes, cups, spoons, forks, or dishes
  • Do not cook for anyone else for the recommended
  • Don’t wash dishes; it is recommended that you use disposable dishes and then those items should be placed in a special marked plastic bag for disposal.
  • Your clothes must be washed separately

Your doctor will give you guidelines regarding how long various restrictions should remain in place in order to protect those around you.

Note: If you are unable to avoid direct or indirect contact with infants and young children, you should talk to your doctor about the possibility of hospitalization. It is not common in the United States to hospitalize patients after RAI, but if you are receiving a particularly high dosage of Iodine 131, and have no way to protect children or babies, it may be an option.

Other Recommendations

Keep in mind that you must be provided with a written document stating they you have been given a medical treatment, documenting the source of the radiation, in case you are traveling and monitoring devices detect the radiation. (This is typically more likely when traveling via an airport, or when crossing an international border.)

Know the Guidelines

Before you or any family members have RAI treatment, it is strongly recommended that you read the following detailed resources regarding guidelines post-RAI to protect family, children, babies, coworkers, and the public, and discuss the guidelines with your doctors thoroughly, and how they should be applied to you, including recommended timeframes:

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