Answer to Question #5964 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Pregnancy and Radiation — Flying

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


I have been a flight attendant for the last six years. Over the years an extremely frightening amount of females have found it hard and, in many cases, impossible to conceive. The figures have seemed to soar in the last 18 months, or this may be because more of us are talking openly about our situation. It may just be complete coincidence as I do work in a female-dominant environment, but I was wondering if you think that the radiation, however small, from the aircraft may be affecting us.


You should know that in the general population 7 percent of couples are infertile, that is, one in 14. Secondly, impressions of fertility or miscarriage from personal experience fall into the category of clusters. Conclusions from clusters are more frequently wrong than correct. From the scientific viewpoint, you can be made sterile by ionizing radiation, but it takes a very large dose.

The survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not have a sterility problem because it takes 6 to 7 Gy to the ovaries to make a women sterile and the inhabitants in those cities who received 7 Gy whole-body dose did not survive. So the survivors who received large doses, but not large enough to cause sterility, were fertile. The radiation exposure from flying is protracted and is a very low dose.

Other causes of infertility would be being on birth control pills for many years and postponing pregnancy until you are older. Stress can contribute to decreased fertility and so can excessive smoking.

All I can tell you is that epidemiology studies do not confirm your impression, but unfortunately there are only a few studies. Each attendant who is having a problem should have a complete evaluation by an obstetrician who specializes in infertility.

Robert Brent MD, PhD

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 16 November 2006. 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.