Answer to Question #12265 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Medical and Dental Patient Issues — Therapy - Nuclear Medicine

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


I will receive radiation treatment for my overactive thyroid this Friday at 1:30 p.m. My doctor suggests three days of isolation. I plan to stay home Friday through Sunday and return to work on Monday.

I work for the state from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and I'm a hairstylist in the evenings. Is it safe for me to return to work at my hairstylist job considering I will have close contact with clients, e.g., shampooing and using chemicals on clients' hair? I don't want to cause any harm to my clients or their hair. I will take more days off if needed.


You pose very good questions, and your concern for your clients and coworkers is laudable. The health care team administering your treatment is required to provide you with instructions to make sure radiation exposure to others is inconsequential. I encourage you to describe your plans for returning to work and the type of work you do to your doctor and/or the technologist(s) involved with your treatment. Because they have more information about your treatment and condition, they are in the best position to advise you.

Having said that, I can offer some general information for your consideration. The radioactive iodine is excreted in body fluids, including sweat. Theoretically you could transfer some of the radioactive iodine to your clients while working with them. I suspect, however, that shampooing would wash away the radioactive iodine, so it is really not an issue.

Because you would wear gloves while applying chemicals, there is probably little chance of transferring radioactive iodine to your clients. Removing the gloves without spreading contamination, however, could be an issue. Normal glove-removal techniques assume the contamination is on the outside of the glove, but in your case it would be on the inside. And wearing this type of glove will cause your hands to sweat.

I would also be concerned about the other tools of your trade you may use—scissors, clippers, etc. You could transfer radioactive iodine to these from your hands, and then subsequent transfers could result in an uptake of radioactive iodine by others.

Years ago, I was involved with a patient who received a similar treatment. He was a butcher with a strong work ethic and wanted to go back to work immediately after being released. (The release rules were different back then.) Of concern was that he could make all the meat he contacted radioactive. Fortunately, the doctor was able to convince him to take some time off.

Again, I urge you to have a conversation with your doctor and/or the technologist regarding specific precautions you should take.

Kent Lambert, CHP, FHPS

Answer posted on 4 December 2017. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.