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VERIFY: There's no evidence infrared thermometers harm a part of the brain called the pineal gland

A post going around social media claims to show concerns from an anonymous Australian nurse who warns against pointing an infrared thermometer at foreheads.

WASHINGTON — QUESTION:

Is there any evidence that infrared thermometers should not be used on a person's forehead because they can damage the pineal gland?

ANSWER:

According to several health experts, there is no current evidence that says infrared thermometers should not be used on a person's forehead. Here's a look at why.

SOURCES:

Peter Sunderland:  Professor at the Department of Fire Protection Engineering at the University of Maryland

Dr. Sabyasachi Sen- Professor of Endocrinology and Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Dr. Haris Sair: Director of Neuroradiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine 

Food and Drug Administration

PROCESS:

A viewer reached out to the Verify team after seeing a Facebook post warning against using infrared thermometers. It's a message being copy and pasted all over, claiming to be from an anonymous Australian nurse.

The post warns you should not allow yourself or your kids to have an infrared thermometer pointed at your forehead claiming it could harm a part of the brain called the "pineal gland."

So we're Verifying: is there any evidence that infrared thermometers actually damage the pineal gland? 

Our Verify researchers contacted the Food & Drug Administration, and experts in neuroradiology, endocrinology and fire protection engineering.

"These detectors don't emit any infrared light, so that to me is not an issue," Peter Sunderland, a professor at University of Maryland's Department of Fire Protection Engineering, said.

He explained that these thermometers are used to measure infrared light to determine an object's temperature. Sunderland said some thermometers may emit a dim red light, but that’s a guide for the person taking your temperature. 

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Cropped image of doctor measuring temperature of boy with infrared thermometer at hospital

"Some of these non-contact thermometers emit a dim red light to be sure you aren't measuring the temperature of someone's hair," Sunderland said. "This red light is visible and harmless. It is not IR light. These sensors do not emit any IR light or any other type of electromagnetic beam."

The FDA, who regulates the sale of medical devices in the U.S., agrees that infrared thermometers don't emit any infrared energy. 

"The FDA believes that FDA-cleared infrared thermometers can be safe and effective, and FDA has provided an enforcement policy for clinical electronic thermometers during COVID-19, which includes performance and labeling recommendations in an FDA guidance document," an FDA spokesperson said.

Our Verify researchers also contacted Dr. Haris Sair, director of neurological at the John's Hopkins University School of Medicine, who also debunked the claim.

"This thing is smack dab right in the middle of the head,'" Salir said. "Nothing is happening between the thermometer and the pineal gland."

Dr. Sabyasachi Sen, a professor of endocrinology at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, explained that infrared thermometers are a good tool for screening people quickly and without invading personal space.

“I don’t know where the scientific basis is for this concern...  it’s a conjecture, it’s innuendo...and in absence of that, it actually brings up a concern that we are losing a vital test for screening, which to me is much more of a concern in the face of a pandemic," Sen said.

So, we can Verify, at this point, there’s no evidence that infrared thermometers can damage the pineal gland.

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