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Eye Fashion Item Could Cause MRI Problems

March 28, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Emergency Radiology, Neuroradiology
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What in the world are those “artifacts” that show up in the area of the eyes on an MRI scan?

In at least one instance, revealed in a case report published online Monday in the open-access BMC Medical Imaging, they were circle contact lenses. Such lenses, also known as color contact lenses and big eye contact lenses, feature a dark circle around the rim. The circle is designed to make the iris look larger—to create a doll-like “big eye” look. It usually contains iron oxide or other metals, meaning that it shows up on MRI scans.

The study cautions:

Clinical MRI services should be aware of circle contact lenses as a source of decreased image quality as well as the theoretical risk of burns to the globe.

The lenses are popular in Asia, particularly among young women. They’re generally noncorrective, which means they’re available without a prescription in Asia (although not in the United States, where the Food and Drug Administration classifies them as medical devices). Pinky Paradise of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which claims to be the largest circle contact lens store, says on its Web site (in what is probably a less than fluent translation), “Circle lenses are more than colored contact lens, but they are also fashion trend, confidence booster, and a new way to present yourself.”

An animated 30-second commercial on the site depicts a brown-eyed young woman gazing morosely into a mirror, then getting a “new idea.” When she dons blue circle contact lenses, her drab clothing becomes brightly colored, flowers bloom all around her, butterflies flock to her, and a rainbow arches overhead.

Nothing so dramatic happened when a 28-year-old woman received an MRI scan (on a 3-tesla machine) after treatment of a desmoid tumor in her neck. But the radiologists at Gunma University Hospital in Maebashi, Japan, noticed “an artifact in the globes.” The woman experienced no discomfort during the exam and reported no eye problems a year after the scan. Still, the radiologists wondered about possible effects, so they imaged a gelatin phantom “wearing” circle contacts. The lenses didn’t move during the eight-minute scan, but the lens temperature rose—all of 1°C.

So there appears to be no cause for alarm. However, the study authors note that manufacturers have not fully revealed the metal content of circle contacts. And they drily observe, “The cosmetic effects of circle contact lenses are much more subtle than the intended audience of computer graphics–enhanced music videos might be led to believe, and it is in fact sometimes difficult to tell they are being worn.”

Therefore, they suggest:

Removal of all contact lenses prior to an MRI examination should continue to be enforced, as it seems the only realistic way to prevent patients from being scanned while still wearing circle lenses.

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