Are digital infrared thermometers good for our state of mind?

By Rafael Castillo M.D.

We get “shot” in the forehead with digital infrared thermometers or laser temperature guns several times a day, as we enter office buildings, groceries or drugstores or pass our village gates after work.

It’s an accepted part of the “new normal,” and the temperature check has become such a daily routine one hardly makes a fuss.

Weeks ago, a patient related this recurring nightmare where he’s at the end of a queue entering a mall. Every person going in had the usual temperature check, and the laser light would bore a small hole through the person’s skull. But it didn’t seem to cause any functional damage, as each person walked normally past the guard after being checked.

There were those who already had multiple holes in the skull, while some had bigger holes from repeated temperature checks, such that the multiple small holes coalesced. It didn’t seem to bother the others as it did my patient, but the good thing was that every time his turn came, he would wake up, and be so grateful it was just a bad dream.

I advised him to request the guards to train the laser thermal gun on his wrist, near the radial pulse, instead of the forehead, since there’s no significant difference in the temperature of these two areas. He followed my advice and texted me days later that he was no longer bothered by the nightmares.

I followed the advice I’d given, and most guards granted the request, with a smile, saying, “Pwede rin pala.” It was only on one occasion when a guard in the drugstore pleaded that his supervisor would give him penalty for not following instructions strictly, so I relented to being “shot” again in the forehead.

Actually, there’s no physical harm the laser thermal gun could cause on the body or brain neurons. The thermal gun does not really emit infrared rays. It has a detector called thermopile, which absorbs the infrared energy coming from the object whose temperature is being checked.

With higher temperatures, there’s more infrared energy, which generates more heat. The heat is converted by the thermopile into electricity, which is sent to the detector, and in a second or two, the temperature registers on the thermal gun’s screen. Temperature laser guns were not originally intended for use in humans. They were repurposed only for such use in times like this, as a quick, reliable and inexpensive way to check body temperatures, instead of the more sophisticated thermal body scans used in airports.

For machines and food

These guns were initially used to take the temperature of objects that one could not go near to, such as boiler machines and other industrial equipment. It was also used to check the temperature of food on buffet tables to make sure the right temperature was maintained to prevent spoilage.

Now that thermal guns are repurposed to check temperatures in humans, should we be concerned about long-term adverse effects?

The ones who designed it and the manufacturers assure us there are no expected deleterious effects, although I think it might have some, if pointed at the eyes for a few seconds, even accidentally.

This could be a problem with children not able to hold their heads still for a few seconds. One time, a toddler carried by his mom was doing that—trying to get his head away from the infrared light—because probably, in his mind, he was being shot in the head.

This is what I’m worried about with repeated daily exposure to thermal guns. Just like my patient with recurring nightmares. There could be cumulative impact on the subconscious mind, initially threatening it, but subsequently forcing it into submission.

That sounds like the Biblical seal of the anti-Christ on the forehead! The daily conditioning of people being “shot” in the forehead—and sometimes queuing up just to get it—now makes me uncomfortable.

And how about the long-term psychological effect on the security guards doing it probably more than a thousand times a day?

Repeated acts become habits that can permanently rewire or reprogram the subconscious mind.

In the guard’s subconscious mind, he’s pointing at a person’s forehead with something that is shaped like a gun, and he pulls a trigger. Will that make our security guards more trigger-happy after some time?

I hope psychologists would research on this.

I hope the Department of Health or Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases will issue an advisory changing the target of the thermal guns, from the forehead to the wrist.


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