January is National Radon Action Month – a time to learn more about this naturally occurring gas, the health effects of exposure to it and potential issues in your home.
Radon is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas produced when uranium in soil breaks down. It is released through rocks, soil and water and can build up in enclosed spaces through cracks in a building's foundation or other openings.
The health hazard comes from radioactive particles released when radon decays. When inhaled, radon can damage the cells in people's lungs. Exposure to radon causes no immediate symptoms, but over time, the long-term threat of lung cancer is significant to everyone. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, resulting in more than 21,000 lives each year. It’s also the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers.
Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy, and this process can damage lung tissue, leading to lung cancer. However, not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop lung cancer, and the amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be many years.
Radon can be found all over the U.S. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates about one in every 15 homes have elevated radon levels. The highest radon concentrations develop in spaces below ground level without much ventilation: basements, crawlspaces, foundations, sump pumps, and construction joints. Radon can get into any type of building and result in a high indoor radon level.
You and your family most likely get your most significant exposure at home, where you spend most of your time. While radon issues may be more common in some areas, any home can have problems. The only way to know for sure is to test the air in your home. Winter is a good time to test your home for radon because when the windows and doors are sealed tightly, radon levels inside your home can rise.
It's never too late to reduce your risk of lung cancer. Don’t wait to test and fix the problem. Simple and inexpensive do-it-yourself radon test kits and digital detectors are available for purchase at many local hardware stores and online retailers such as Amazon. If you find high levels of radon in your home, the problem can be fixed with radon reduction systems that can reduce levels in your home by up to 99%. Learn more fromThe American Lung Institute.
About the Author
Adnan Khan, MD, specializes in pulmonary medicine. He earned his medical degree from the Dow University of Health Sciences in Karachi, Pakistan, and performed his residency at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science/Chicago Medical School North Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Khan is currently seeing new patients at Freeman Lung Institute.
Freeman Lung Institute specializes in high-quality care and offers information on the latest treatment and therapy options to help patients live a stronger life. Talk to your primary care physician about radon exposure or call our office at 417.347.8315 for an appointment or visit freemanhealth.com/lung.