Patients who rely on iodine pills for their health conditions may want to take steps to ensure they have an adequate supply. A worldwide rush on the pills is causing shortages and steep price hikes.
Iodine is used to prevent iodine deficiency and its consequences, including goiter. It is also used for treating a skin disease caused by a fungus (cutaneous sporotrichosis); treating fibrocystic breast disease; preventing breast cancer, eye disease, diabetes, and heart disease and stroke; and as an expectorant, according to the National Institutes of Health. Iodine is also applied to the skin to kill germs, prevent soreness inside the mouth (mucositis) caused by chemotherapy, and treat diabetic ulcers.
Iodine is also used to treat a radiation emergency caused by exposure to radioactive iodides. In Japan, officials are distributing potassium iodide tablets to residents and workers near the quake-stricken Fukushima nuclear facility. The pills can help prevent thyroid cancer after radiation exposure by reducing the amount of radioactive iodine absorbed by the thyroid gland. The pills do not protect other organs from the effects of radiation exposure.
Potassium iodide should only be used in a radiation emergency, not in advance of an emergency to prevent sickness. Despite that, millions of people are rushing to buy iodine pills worldwide out of fear that radiation from Japan could hit close to home. Health experts say the pills are of little use and money is being wasted. Taking iodine pills when they are not needed can cause side effects including stomach upset, allergic reactions (possibly severe), rashes, and inflammation of the salivary glands.
Pharmacies and online retailers worldwide are reporting a surge in sales and a rise in prices as demand for iodine pills continues to climb. Iodine pill packets with 14 pills usually sell for about $10 per packet. According to reports on CNN News, some packets are up for bid online and going for as much as $540 per packet.
Residents of Western U.S. states such as California and Washington have been buying up the pills in large quantities, as have hospitals and pharmacies.