Of Nails, Noses, MRIs And Ferromagnetic Detection

A very common question asked about ferromagnetic detection systems is, “will it find __________ [insert the object of your choice: pacemaker, cell phone, pocket knife, intra-orbital fragments…]?” Funny, but in the hundreds, if not thousands, of times that question has been posed to me, never once has it been, “will it find a nail I stuck in my nose 30 years ago?”

That’s right, a guy getting an MRI in Colorado had a nail, purportedly stuck in his nasal cavity for approximately 30 years, wriggled loose and he coughed it up shortly after the exam! Follow the link below to view the video (after a short, but annoying commercial):

News video on MRI’s and nails in noses!

Ferromagnetic detection systems have caught a variety of unusual and unsuspected magnetic objects before they entered the room with the giant MRI magnet, but at the time I write this, no ferromagnetic detection system has been approved for finding things internal to the body of a person… even nails.

Would it have been possible for a ferromagnetic detection instrument to find an inch-long nail at a distance of an inch or two, say buried inside a beef roast? Yes, but it would depend greatly on the instrument and the conditions in which it was operated.

I don’t recommend sticking ferromagnetic materials in orifices just to test the sensitivity of your detector (a friend of mine did this with a BB in his ear… took several days to get it out). If you have questions about your instrument, ask the manufacturer.

And whatever you do, don’t go putting nails (or anything else, for that matter) up your nose!

Tobias Gilk, President & MRI Safety Director
Mednovus, Inc.

2 thoughts on “Of Nails, Noses, MRIs And Ferromagnetic Detection

  1. lee

    i have a question if i had a surgery 4 years ago with a metal rod in my leg but had it removed. Then today I had an MRI and felt this tiny pain in that same leg and eevn now an hour after the MRI i still feel this weird pain around my heel that gets worst as i move it. should i be worried?

  2. Tobias Gilk Post author


    While the rod may be gone, it’s reasonable that some of the hardware used to put it in place (screws or pins) are still there. The MRI process may have vibrated the remaining hardware (if there is any there). That can be a weird sensation, sometimes feeling ticklish, sometimes burning. Particularly if this feeling was associated with your bone, I could imagine that it would persist, even though the event that caused the feeling was only a 30-minute MRI.

    If it doesn’t diminish and go away, then you should ask your doctor about it. Personally, unless it persists, I wouldn’t be concerned.

    I hope this helps.

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