FDA Safety Alert: Face Masks With Metal Can Burn During MRI

Damian McNamara

December 08, 2020

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After a patient's face was burned in the outline of a mask that they wore during a 3-Tesla MRI neck scan, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautioned that face masks containing metal can heat to unsafe temperatures during scanning.

Clinicians have known for years to ask patients to remove all metal jewelry and other objects prior to an MRI. The widespread wearing of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, adds one more consideration to the list.

The FDA's December 7 safety communication applies to surgical and nonsurgical face masks and respirators.

The injury risk relates to rapid heating of metal components. Many face masks contain a nose wire or metal clip that helps the product conform to the face. Some masks contain metal nanoparticles, while others feature antimicrobial coatings with silver or copper. Each of these products should be avoided during MRI scanning. Also watch out for staples on headbands, the FDA warned.

If the metal content of a face mask is unknown, the FDA suggests providing the patient with a facial covering that is known not to contain any metal.

Robert E. Watson Jr, MD, PhD, chair of the American College of Radiology (ACR) Committee on MR Safety, agreed. He recommended that facilities "provide patients with masks known to be MRI-safe and not permit patient-owned masks in the MRI."

Watson suggested this strategy at a time when face masks are required.

"COVID-19 safety protocols require that patients wear masks when being scanned, to decrease infection risk to MRI staff, decrease risk of contaminating the MRI scanner, and to protect themselves from infection," he told Medscape Medical News. "Any conducting metal that enters the MRI machine is at risk of heating due to the radiofrequency fields inherent to image generation."

Adverse events related to the metal components of a face mask should be reported to the FDA using the MedWatch voluntary reporting form. In addition, healthcare providers subject to the FDA user facility reporting requirements should follow procedures at their facilities to report such events.

FDA Safety Communication. Published online December 7, 2020. Full text

Damian McNamara is a staff journalist based in Miami. He covers a wide range of medical specialties, including infectious diseases, gastroenterology and rheumatology. Follow Damian on Twitter:  @MedReporter.

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