Every time I pass through an airport — which is pretty often — I worry about the radiation I'm exposed to at airport security and then on the plane.
But in a recent look at the evidence about the health effects of frequent flying, I learned that there's probably no need to fret:
For the vast majority of travelers — even pretty frequent fliers — it seems the bigger worry is jet lag's effects on the body.
"Few would realize that frequent jet lag disrupts genes that influence aging and heightens the risk of having a heart attack," the University of Surrey's Scott Cohen, who has studied the dark side of hypermobility, told me.
For those who nearly live on planes, like airline crews, radiation can be a concern. "Some frequent fliers would be surprised to learn that their exposure to radiation exceeds that of nuclear power workers," Cohen said. The International Commission on Radiological Protection sets radiation guidelines for human health, recommending dose limits of 20,000 microsieverts per year, averaged over five years (so 100,000 microsieverts in five years) for radiation workers, and 1,000 microsieverts per year for the general public.
As our chart shows, most of us — even pretty frequent fliers — don't get anywhere near those limits. You get about 40 microsieverts of radiation on a flight from Los Angeles to New York, so you'd need to hop on about 25 such flights a year to hit the limit for the public.
As you can see, there's no need to worry about airport screening — that exposure is super minimal, and even the health risk for frequent fliers is considered very small.
To learn more, see our story on the health risks of frequent flying.