What you need to know about radiation sickness – OP

By the author of The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications and The Faithful Prepper

Radiation sickness is no laughing matter, and unless you understand exactly what you need to do in the event of a nuclear blast, you are likely to end up experiencing it firsthand. Thankfully, there are things we can do to avoid it. Here is what you need to know about radiation sickness:

Units you need to understand with radiation sickness

I’ll mainly be using the units of roentgen. If you see me say something like 5R, that means 5 roentgen. This is a unit of measurement for calculating the dose of radiation absorbed. The lower the roentgen, the safer you are.

An area that will expose you to 300R is going to be exponentially more dangerous than a place with 0.5R.

There are other radiation units as well, though. Grays, rads, and rems all deserve mention as well. For our purposes, consider 1 roentgen, 1 rad, and 1 rem to all mean the exact same thing. A gray is worth 100 Rads.

Don’t get too caught up in the numbers. Just know that the higher the number is with just about anything related to radiation, the worse off you are. The predominant exception to this would be in discussing the protection factor (PF) of a shelter. The higher the PF of a shelter, the safer the shelter is from radiation.

What is radiation sickness? 

There are different types of radiation, but you’re probably familiar with the concept already of the radiation from a nuclear weapon being of the lethal variety. Though you can’t see it – it’s invisible – after a nearby nuclear blast, this type of lethal radiation would be all around you.

Despite being a good distance away from the mushroom cloud, despite being unharmed by the blast, fireball, or heat wave, simply being unprotected could lead to your absorbing a lethal dose of radiation. This means that just going outside to check on your garden could prove to be a deadly activity.

According to the EPA, absorbing 75 Rad (the rough equivalent of 18,000 chest X-rays) within a matter of minutes to hours will give you acute radiation sickness. 

When you absorb too much of this radiation, you will come down with what is known as acute radiation sickness, aka radiation sickness. This leads to the impacted cells in the body either being killed or becoming cancerous, with the amount of radiation absorbed largely determining what is going to happen.

But, more on that in just a moment.

What are the signs and symptoms of radiation sickness? 

The chief sign of radiation sickness one needs to be aware of is vomiting. Doctors actually use the presence of vomiting as one of their chief indicators of just how much radiation was absorbed. The sooner somebody starts throwing up after being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, the more radiation that individual absorbed. 

Other signs and symptoms of radiation sickness include:

  • Bloody poop
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Headache
  • Infections
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Weakness

Will radiation sickness kill you? 

With a vengeance, it will. Death by radiation sickness is a miserable way to die. Your remaining hours will be spent vomiting, in severe pain, and fully cognizant of the fact that you are dying. You will suffer an excruciating life until your death.

This is not something to be taken lightly. One cannot just hope for the best, and yes, the odds are that you will survive a nuclear strike. It’s the nuclear fallout that is liable to kill you. In the world of nuclear weapons, understanding that you are both fair game and that your family will suffer without your understanding of how to stay safe is vital.

You teach your family firearm preparedness, knowing that guns are everywhere, and they need to know how to handle themselves around them. Why not do the same with nuclear preparedness?

How do you avoid getting radiation sickness? 

There are three main components to avoiding radiation sickness: time, distance, and shielding. 

Decrease the time of your exposure.

The less time that you are exposed to dangerous radiation, the less your chances are of coming down with radiation sickness. For example, as Cresson Kearney points out in his fantastic book Nuclear War Survival Skills, two weeks after a nuclear blast, a family is likely going to be able to safely exit their shelter for the first time.

If they are in an area with high levels of fallout, though, they are going to have to limit the amount of time they spend out of their shelter. Why? Because though the radiation is decaying, it is still present in a sufficient amount to cause damage with extended exposure.

Kearney states that a person can be exposed to 6R each day for at least two months without becoming ill if they’ve not been exposed to a total dose of 100R during the two-week sheltering process. [page 13]

So, if the background radiation level is 1R, then, according to Kearney, one could spend six hours per day outside of a shelter safely post-nuclear blast.

Limiting one’s self to decreased levels of time decreases the amount of radiation absorbed.

Increase the distance from the radiation.

The further you are from harmful radiation, the safer you will be. It stands to reason that the individual who lives a 45-minute drive from where a nuclear blast took place is going to be in greater danger than is the individual who lives a 15-hour drive from the blast site.

Of course, nuclear fallout can still be carried quite some distance by wind (which typically travels from west to east in the United States) and can make that 15-hour away location still dangerous as well, but distance does increase safety.

Shielding yourself from radiation is the most important thing you can do. 

As Kearney has pointed out, within 12 hours of a massive nuclear attack on American soil, the bulk of the United States would be covered in radioactive fallout. [p25] So, it doesn’t matter where you are; you need to understand the importance of shielding yourself from fallout.

Ironically, at least in 1986, FEMA was recommending shelters to the American public that, in practice, would result in lethal doses of radiation being absorbed by 100% of occupants. [p49] For the best shielding from lethal radiation levels, it is recommended that one seek shelter in a fallout shelter. There are commercially produced options out there, but Cresson Kearny lays out some excellent field-expedient, shovel-ready designs in his book Nuclear War Survival Skills that you need to have a basic understanding of.

He actually points out that the shelters featured in his book give better protection against radiation than do virtually all basements within the United States. [p45] Seeing that his shelters are little more than trenches dug into the ground with a log roof covered in earth, this is well worth your looking into.

It should also be pointed out that if you are outside and have been exposed to radioactive fallout, you need to throw away all of your clothes and shower as quickly as possible. Radioactive particles will have coated your skin, and the sooner you rinse them off, the less risk you have of absorbing dangerous levels of radiation that can cause burns, be inhaled, or worse.

What do doctors use to treat radiation sickness? 

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a number of treatments that doctors in the United States will use to treat patients with acute radiation sickness. If the absorbed dose has been judged to be too large, the patient will be given painkillers and palliative care, as death is 100% certain. 

If the patient is deemed to stand a chance, hospitals in the USA will likely prescribe one of the following medications:

  • Prussian blue (Radiogardase) – This drug is given to bind to cesium and thallium within the body. The radiation is then pooped out. By doing so, Prussian blue helps to get radioactive elements out of the body as quickly as possible.
  • Diethylenetriamine pentaacetic acid (DPTA) – DPTA binds to the radioactive metals americium, curium, and plutonium. Whereas Prussian blue eliminates radiation via pooping, DPTA causes you to pee out the radiation.*

*Note: I’m not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be. The above is not medical advice. If you’re looking for medical advice, find somebody licensed to give it.

Radiation sickness is a serious threat of nuclear warfare of which everyone should have a base level of understanding.

The above knowledge will give you a fairly good understanding of just what one can expect with radiation sickness. This is not a game. This is a very real threat. The sooner you can get out of the way of dangerous radiation, the better off your chances are.

Other resources:

What are your thoughts?

Do you have anything to add regarding radiation sickness? Are you concerned about any increasing likelihood of a nuclear incident? Is this a scenario for which you’re preparing? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

About Aden

Aden Tate is a regular contributor to TheOrganicPrepper.com and TheFrugalite.com. Aden runs a micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has four published books, What School Should Have Taught YouThe Faithful Prepper,  An Arm and a Leg, The Prepper’s Guide to Post-Disaster Communications, and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

What You Need to Know About Radiation Sickness


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