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What Are X-Rays?

Diane Luke
Senior Editor, TipsHire

X-rays are a form of ionizing radiation. These can be very dangerous. The most important thing is knowing how the X-ray incident beam acts. There are several X-ray characteristics that make this type of radiation particularly dangerous for their use in the laboratory, although low-intensity radiation that is not risky for the study specialists.

X-rays can not be felt by humans, but some people may feel tingling in their skin when they are near an X-ray. Practically, it does not feel the X-rays but rather the sensation resulting from the interaction of the X-ray ionized particles with the air.


During experiments, German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen, bombarding a metal body with fast electrons, discovered that it emitted very penetrating radiation, a radiation he called X-rays. He made this discovery in 1895.

Radiation X, or X-rays, was later called Rontgen radiation.

X-rays properties

  • In the vacuum they propagate at the speed of light
  • Impresses the photographic plates
  • Are not deviated from electric and magnetic fields
  • Produce fluorescence of some substances (zinc silicate, cadmium sulfide, zinc sulfate), emitting yellowish-green light
  • Are invisible, that is, unlike light, do not impress the eye of man
  • They easily penetrate through opaque substances for light, for example through the human body, metallic low density blades, paper, wood, glass, etc., but are absorbed by high density metals (e.g. lead).
  • Their penetration power depends on the atomic mass and the thickness of the substance they pass through.
  • Ionizes the gases they pass through. The number of produced ions indicates the intensity of the radiation. This property is based on the operation of the radiation detectors.
  • Have physiological action, destroying organic cells, being generally harmful to humans. This property is based on their use in the treatment of cancerous tumors for the destruction of diseased tissues.

X-rays risks and benefits

X-rays are a type of electromagnetic energy. It has short wavelengths, which allows it to transport quite a lot of energy.

When they are intercepted by the human body, the ionized radiation in the equation enters.

Ionized radiation can blow electrons that are orbiting around atomic core. When the electrons move, they create groups of atoms called ions, which can spread other atoms through cells exposed to X-rays.

Damage that is brought to cells from the radiation can modify the DNA and can lead to increased chance of abnormal cell formation during replication or even transformation into cancer cells over time.

This is why specialists only use the required X-ray dose or the lowest dose for medical imaging.

Moreover, the radiation accumulates over time, so problems can also occur if X-ray investigations are frequently performed. X-rays are not only harmful, however. Fortunately, human cells can heal after short-term exposure to X-rays. In the case of some affections, the X-rays can give the image of some portions of teeth or internal organs that are not visible from the outside of the body.

They help evaluate fractures, tears, or abnormal bones, and allow doctors to track the efficiency of surgical operations. Ultimately, the benefits of establishing the right diagnosis and following optimal treatment are often greater than the risks of radiation.

It is true that x-rays can even give clues to more delicate situations, such as when a child swallows an object accidentally.

Children are the most vulnerable to the X-rays

Short-term exposure to ionized radiation is not worrying in adults because fast-growing cells can recover quickly but children’s bones and tissues are at greater risk. Children’s cells divide more quickly as they grow, there being more chances of abnormal cell formation and DNA damage of those to be reproduced.

Pregnant women will notify their radiologist that they are pregnant before undergoing an X-ray investigation. Even if most of the medical scans avoid exposure of fetuses to radiation, it is important for the doctor to know the details regarding the pregnancy. Also, because the effects of radiation on the body accumulate over time, physicians will be reserved when they have to perform X-ray tests on young people.

Children’s vulnerability involves a greater risk of developing cancer or other health problems later in life. Therefore, prior to any X-ray investigation, parents should request all the details of the risks and benefits of such a test.

Prevent exposure to a large amount of X-rays

Surely the X-ray action can be negative on the human body, but there are many things that can be done to reduce the impact of exposure to them.

First of all, scientists have created various ways to minimize the X-rays exposure. This largely encompasses protective measures during an X-ray investigation to reduce the amount of doses entering the skin.

It is often enough that the equipment has to work properly, as scientists have created various ways to minimize the X-ray exposure. This includes, among other things, adjusting and measuring the amount of radiation absorbed through the skin during a procedure, ensuring that the equipment works properly and properly training of the specialists handling the equipment.

Every person has to make sure that he is not exposed to X-rays unnecessarily, that the machines are performing properly, and that the doctors are specialized in using it.

Nobody should be embarrassed or afraid to ask if an X-ray is or not absolutely necessary in his case.

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