SEATTLE -- There's a warning for people in Washington who are buying up potassium iodide (KI) because of radiation fears.

Supplies of the pills are sold out at stores up and down the West Coast. The over-the-counter pills block harmful radiation and prevent thyroid cancer, but NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman said the pills are only meant for people going into harm's way.

It says on the back 'Use as directed by public health officials in case of a nuclear accident.' This blocks the bad radiation from getting into your thyroid gland. But let me warn people, it doesn't block cesium, it doesn't block anything else for the rest of the organs. So the most important thing is this is not to be taken right now. This is in case you are going to be going into an irradiated area, said Snyderman.

King County health officials also say while potassium iodide is usually safe, it can cause harmful side effects in people who have thyroid problems, allergies to iodine or shellfish, or people with certain skin disorders.

It can also have side effects such as nausea, intestinal upset, rashes, inflammation of the salivary glands, and possible severe allergic reactions. When taken in large doses or if taken for several days in a row, KI can increase the likelihood of developing health problems involving the thyroid gland, said the King County website.

For more information, go to the King County website.

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