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Lack of Eye Protection in Cath Lab Could Lead to Cataracts

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, August 9, 2010

These reports are the first studies to document this phenomenon, says a leading author of both reports, Norman J. Kleiman, Director, Eye Radiation and Environmental Research Laboratory at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York.

Interventionalists have long known that they're exposed to these risks on a daily basis, and rules require that they be well protected from the neck down by a thyroid collar, a lead apron, and a curtain and in some cases a ceiling suspended screen, and other safeguards, Kleiman says. "But there are no federal or state regulations or international rules that mandate any kind of head, neck and face protection."

That's because it was commonly believed that the health risk threshold for radiation-caused cataracts was "about 10 to 50 times higher than what we now think the real values are. But based on those (earlier) published studies, people said 'I don't have to worry about it,' and didn't wear (eye) protection."

"We can't yet say for certainty that these individuals are going to progress to visual disability or need for cataract surgery," Kleiman says, "but based on certainly animal data and all human data we have so far, radiation cataract is progressive, not reversible and it gets worse in time."

He adds: "We're now seeing these changes in people at age 30, 40, 50, well below the age which we would expect them to get cataracts due to  normal aging."

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