The number of professional radiologists and technologists that regularly wear leaded glasses during procedures that produce ionizing radiation is very low when compared to how many wear other forms of personal protective equipment. Part of this is because a number of myths and unsubstantiated claims have resulted in behaviors that ignore factual research about the eyes and x-rays. The reality is that leaded glasses are required in order to provide the maximum amount of protection during medical procedures. Ignoring this type of protective equipment even a few times each month will potentially result in permanent vision damage.
How X-Rays Affect The Eyes
Radiation that results from different types of equipment such as what is found in a fluoroscopy lab or a computed tomography (CT) scanner has the ability to pass through most forms of matter except for substances like lead. The radiation interacts with living cells in a destructive way. The eyes are particularly sensitive to this type of energy and can be damaged much more quickly than some other areas of the body. The primary result of radiation exposure in the eyes is the development of posterior sub-capsular (PSC) cataracts. This causes a clouding of the proteins behind the lens of the eye that is different and more difficult to treat than age-related cataracts.
One of the main disputes about whether medical personnel should wear leaded glasses during certain procedures is about the dosages that are considered harmful. Certain specialists who are not in a position to receive direct doses of radiation do not wear leaded glasses. Although the actual harmful dosage that will cause immediate harm is debatable, what is clearly understood is that radiation has a cumulative effect. This means that even minor exposure in the eyes over the course of several months can potentially result in PSC cataracts or problems with the optical nerves. Most institutions suggest wearing leaded glasses whenever possible in order to keep exposure as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA).
Attenuation By Other Types Of Eyewear
A myth that has circulated for some time is that standard prescription eyewear that is worn in order to improve vision somehow has attenuating properties that protect the wearer from low levels of ionizing radiation. Although some treated glasses provide radiation protection from types generated by the sun, only leaded glasses provide sufficient protection from the ionizing form of the energy. This means that only leaded eyewear that is secured with protective side panels will address the majority of the energy traveling towards the eyes.