Does it make sense to stock up on iodine tablets?

Fear of nuclear risks raises the question of whether it makes sense to stock up on iodine tablets. However, Dr. Conrad Egloff explains why there is no reason to hoard potassium iodide tablets or even to take them prophylactically.

"We are currently receiving many inquiries from customers who would like to stock up on potassium iodide tablets," says Dr. Conrad Egloff, owner of Victoria Apotheke, "We advise against it, for various reasons." We have summarized for you how potassium iodide tablets work, for which cases they are intended and when their use can even be harmful.

What are potassium iodide tablets?

Also known as iodine tablets, potassium iodide tablets are distributed by authorities to anyone living within 50 kilometers of a nuclear reactor. Unlike conventional iodine tablets used as dietary supplements or to treat thyroid disorders, these tablets are high dosed and should only be taken in the event of a nuclear reactor accident.

How do potassium iodide tablets work?

If radioactive iodine leaks from a nuclear power plant, it can enter the body through the air, water, or food. This increases the risk of developing thyroid cancer. To protect the thyroid from radioactive iodine exposure, people take high-dose iodine 12 hours before to 5 hours after the event occurs. This saturates the thyroid gland and prevents it from absorbing any more (radioactive) iodine. 

When is it useful to take potassium iodide tablets?

For the effectiveness of iodine tablets, the time of intake as well as the dosage is crucial. For this reason, the cantons are responsible for the supply of iodine tablets and issue appropriate instructions in case of emergency. Prophylactic use is strongly advised against, since an iodine overdose can cause lasting damage to the thyroid. 

What do iodine tablets protect against, and what do they not protect against?

Iodine tablets only protect the thyroid against radioactive iodine, which can escape in the event of a malfunction at a nuclear reactor. However, they are not able to protect the body from direct radioactive radiation. Therefore, in the event of a nuclear emergency, a shelter must be sought on the instructions of the authorities. 

Where can iodine tablets be obtained?

A pack of potassium iodide tablets can be purchased at any pharmacy for five Swiss francs. For all households located near a nuclear reactor, the canton provides vouchers for potassium iodide tablets. These can also be redeemed at the pharmacy. 

No reason for hoarding purchases

Since the dosage is generously calculated, it is enough to keep one pack of potassium iodide tablets per person at home. Private hoarding purchases make little sense and may interfere with Army pharmacy supplies in an emergency. "If you are unsure about the effect and dosage of potassium iodide tablets, we will be happy to advise our customers in our pharmacies," assures Dr. Egloff, "the important thing is not to take the tablets as a precaution.

Why iodine in the case of radioactive radiation?

Radioactive iodine can be released during a reactor accident. To prevent this from settling in the thyroid "good" iodine should be taken in the form of a high-dose tablet at the right time. This creates a so-called iodine blockade.

What are the side effects of iodine tablets?

Taking iodine tablets can cause skin rashes, itching and burning of the eyes, rhinitis, irritable cough, diarrhoea, headache, fever or similar symptoms. Iodine tablets should never be taken without consulting your family doctor.

When do I have to take iodine tablets?

If radioactive iodine leaks into the environment, the population in the affected area will receive iodine tablets free of charge from the Swiss authorities. Information is provided through all media channels (television, radio, internet, SMS).