What are the symptoms of radon poisoning?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

This is a difficult question to answer because radon does not fit the common definition of “poison.” When you think of poison, most people expect it to be a substance that causes immediate sickness or death upon exposure, like cyanide, or one that results in illness due to long-term exposure and gradual accumulation in the body, such as lead poisoning. 

    Radon does not fit either of those models. It is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas that is a radioactive byproduct of uranium in the soil. Radon is present at a low level in the air everyone breathes every day. Higher levels of radon are the problem.

    According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control (CDC), “Many scientists believe that the alpha radiation dose from long-term exposure to elevated levels of radon progeny in air increases your chance of developing lung cancer. Cigarette smoking greatly increases your chance of developing lung cancer if you are exposed to radon and radon progeny at the same levels as people who do not smoke.”

    The italics and underlining of “increases your chance of getting lung cancer” were added by us to highlight the main problem when talking about radon poisoning. Exposure to high levels of radon gas does not automatically lead to lung cancer, but it does increase your likelihood of getting it.

    Radon is rated as a human carcinogen by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA). The greater your exposure to radon, especially if you smoke cigarettes, the greater your chance of getting lung cancer. It’s that simple. 

    But exposure to high levels of radon is not an automatic lung cancer death sentence. There are no immediate symptoms of radon poisoning upon exposure, and the long-term possibility would be acquiring lung cancer symptoms, such as chest or rib pain, chronic cough, and fatigue.

    Just because there are no immediate symptoms or guarantee of getting lung cancer doesn’t mean that high levels of radon in your home should be ignored. The CDC estimates that thousands of lung cancer deaths each year are caused by radon. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking. Learn more about this statistic at our blog post How was it determined that between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year are caused by radon?

    Unfortunately, not everyone accepts the science behind the radon problem. In fact, some folks think radon is a cure-all for what ails you and pay $15 for a day pass to the Merry Widow Health Mine in Montana, for the opportunity to breathe high-radon air and drink radon water. Here’s a link to the New York Times article about this phenomenon: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/17/business/radon-water.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage

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Here’s links to a collection of our blog posts about “RADON":

 Is a radon mitigation fan required to be on a dedicated circuit breaker/fuse in the electric panel?

What happens to a radon test result if the windows were opened, the test device moved, or there was any other evidence of tampering during the test? 

Where do I find the Florida laws regarding radon?

Can I test vacant land for radon before building a house? 

Is radon mitigation possible for a condominium?

Do radon mitigation systems require maintenance?

What is the average life expectancy of a radon mitigation system?  

Do older houses have higher radon levels than new houses? 

Can the seller tamper with a homebuyer's radon test to change the results?

How long does it take to get the results of a radon test? 

Will opening the windows reduce the radon level in a house?

How was it determined that between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year are caused by radon?

Can a homebuyer do their own radon test for a real estate transaction with a self-test kit?

What is the danger of radon in well water?

What are the symptoms of radon poisoning? 

Does Florida have radon?

Where does radon come from? 

For how many years does an old radon test result remain valid?

Should homeowners get a pre-listing radon test before selling their home?

What are a homebuyer's options when the radon test comes back high (4.0 pico-curies/liter or more)? 

Do granite countertops emit radon?

How can I tell if a house has a radon mitigation system? 

Can a mobile/manufactured home have a high radon problem?

Do I need to test for radon when buying a condominium? 

What does a radon mitigation contractor do to lower the radon level in a home?

How can not testing for radon be an expensive mistake for homebuyers? 

Will the radon test come back sky-high in a house that has been empty and closed-up for months? 

What is radon? Should I be concerned about it?

Should I buy a house with a high radon level? 

What is the average radon level of indoor and outdoor air in America?

What is the operating cost of a radon mitigation system? 

• Should I buy a house with a radon mitigation system?

• Does the buyer or seller of a home pay for radon mitigation when the radon test comes back high? 

• What is the probability of having high radon in a Florida house?

• How quickly do I need to reduce a high radon level in my house? 

Does a home inspector check for radon?

What are the problems with underground return air ducts? 

• What is the probability of having high radon in a Florida house?

• What factors can change radon test levels up or down?

    Visit our RADON page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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