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Image / Self / Health & Wellness

Ask the Doctor: ‘My teenage daughter plays a lot of sports, resulting in many trips to A&E. Should I be worried about radiation from scans?’


By Sarah Gill
12th Sep 2023
Ask the Doctor: ‘My teenage daughter plays a lot of sports, resulting in many trips to A&E. Should I be worried about radiation from scans?’

All your burning health questions answered by the professionals.

“Dear Doctor, my teenage daughter is a keen sport enthusiast. With the risky nature of her chosen sports, she has had plenty of knocks and bruises as well as multiple trips to A&E. As a result, she has had a number of x-rays over the years as well as a couple of CT scans. Should I be worried about the risk of the radiation she is exposed to during these tests? Should I ask her to reduce her competitiveness in these sports to prevent further accidents resulting in the need for x-rays and radiation exposure each time? Thank you, from a very concerned mum.”

radiation teen sports

Answer from Dr Julie O’Brien, Consultant Radiologist, Beacon Limerick

It is great to hear of your daughter’s enthusiasm and participation in sport and physical activity. This is a very reasonable question, and you are correct to be aware of the potential risks associated with medical imaging.

We are all exposed to natural background radiation every day. This comes from the ground and building materials, the food we eat, the air we breathe, and even cosmic rays from outer space as well as a significant contribution from radon gas.

X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation with a higher energy than light which can pass through the body to form an image of tissues and structures of different densities within the body. The larger the body part, the higher the dose that is required.

The first investigation of an injury is usually an x-ray, and the radiation dose is very low; for example, the dose of a chest x-ray is similar to that of three days background radiation or a long-haul flight. The dose of a hand or extremity x-ray is even lower, therefore the risks associated with x-rays are very low. There is a higher radiation dose associated with Computed tomography (CT) studies which depends on the organs being imaged. This dose can be between 100-1000 times higher than an x-ray dose; however, technology continues to improve and the dose from CT studies continues to reduce.

Almost everything we do in our daily lives carries some level of risk. It is known that there is a documented very small increase in the incidence of cancer occurring years or even decades after medical imaging radiation exposure. The risk is higher in younger people and when imaging certain organs such as the chest, whereas the dose and risk is much lower when imaging the extremities e.g. hands and feet. The benefit from any x-ray or CT examination should outweigh the small risk associated with the radiation exposure.

It is important to remember that a radiology imaging study will not be performed unless it is justified, and this is particularly the case for younger people. Every effort is made in the Radiology Department to ensure the dose is as low as reasonably achievable, known as the ALARA principle.

In summary, the dose from x-rays should not be a concern. The dose from CT studies is higher but will only be performed if necessary and it shouldn’t deter your daughter from competing in her chosen sports.

Have a question for the professionals you’d like answered? Get in touch with [email protected] with the subject headline ‘Ask The Doctor’.