Exhalation of 131I after radioiodine therapy: measurements in exhaled air

  • Klaus Schomäcker
  • Ferdinand Sudbrock
  • Thomas Fischer
  • Markus Dietlein
  • Carsten Kobe
  • Mark Gaidouk
  • Harald Schicha
Original Article



A considerable amount of radioiodine is exhaled after radioiodine therapy leading to unwanted radiation exposure through inhalation. This study focused on the concentration of radioactivity exhaled and its chemical nature.


Air exhaled by 47 patients receiving 131I-iodine for different thyroid diseases (toxic goitre n = 26, Graves’ disease n = 13, thyroid cancer n = 8) was investigated with a portable constant air-flow sampler. Different chemical iodine species were collected separately (organic, elemental and aerosolic) up to 26 h after administration of the radioiodine capsule. The data approximated to a monoexponential time–activity curve when integrated over 100 h. The radioactivity in the filters was measured with a well counter at defined time points after administration.


The radioactivity of 131I in the exhaled air 1 h after administration ranged from 1 to 100 kBq/m3. Two parameters (half-life of radioiodine exhalation and time-integrated activity over 100 h) were substantially higher in patients with cancer after near-total thyroidectomy (11.8 ± 2.1 h and 535 ± 140 kBq / m3, respectively) than in patients with hyperfunctioning thyroid tissue due to toxic adenoma (7.6 ± 2.5 h and 115 ± 27 kBq / m3, respectively) or Graves’ disease (6.4 ± 3.6 h and 113 ± 38 kBq / m3, respectively). The percentage of radioiodine in the exhaled air in relation to radioiodine administered to the patient was between 80 ppm and 150 ppm. The fraction of organically bound radioiodine (mean value) for all time points after administration was 94–99.9%. This percentage did not depend on the type of thyroid disease.


The amount of exhaled radioiodine is small but by no means negligible on the first day after administration. This is the first study to provide experimental evidence on a systematic basis that radioiodine becomes exhalable in vivo, i.e. in the patient. The mechanism of organification of orally administered radioiodine remains to be investigated.


Radioiodine therapy Thyroid Exhalation 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of Miss H. Quraischy in collecting the patient data.

Conflicts of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Klaus Schomäcker
    • 1
  • Ferdinand Sudbrock
    • 1
  • Thomas Fischer
    • 1
  • Markus Dietlein
    • 1
  • Carsten Kobe
    • 1
  • Mark Gaidouk
    • 1
  • Harald Schicha
    • 1
  1. 1.Clinic of Nuclear MedicineUniversity of CologneCologneGermany

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