x-rays affect medications?
Q: I travel frequently
and always carry my estrogen and thyroid pills
with me. Could the radiation from airport security
alter them or make them less effective?
A: Most medications are
not affected by the low doses of radiation emitted
by airport screening machines, even if they’re
exposed several times in a trip. Certain drugs
called “biologics,” which include
insulin and red blood-cell boosters such as epoetin
alfa injection (Epogen, Procrit, and others)
require special handling and storage; travelers
sometimes worry about putting them through the
x-ray machine. But according to the FDA’s
Center for Biologics, any harmful effects from
x-rays on these medications would occur only
at doses that are “orders of magnitude
higher” than the radiation received from
x-ray screening devices.
If a drug’s effectiveness or safety could
be affected by airport x-ray screening, the danger
would be indicated on the label or package insert.
The FDA, which oversees labeling, says it “knows
of no drugs that have special instructions in
the labeling to avoid airport x-ray machines.” If
you’re still concerned, you can call the
manufacturer of each of your medications. Otherwise,
simply ask to have your carry-on bag inspected
by hand. The Transportation Security Administration
says you have the right to visual inspection
of your medications. If you decide to have this
done, make sure they are in a pouch or bag that
can be easily separated from your other carry-on
baggage — it's helpful to screeners and
will reduce delays.
Celeste Robb-Nicholson, M.D., is the Editor
in Chief of Harvard Women’s Health