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Ultrasound Safety

August 1, 2011

A listener asks: Can medical ultrasound damage your ears?



Cranking up the ultrasound…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Ultrasound, such as that used in medical imaging, is above the range of human hearing. But since cranking up the volume of regular sound can damage our eardrums, listener John Yockachonis of Mojave, California wants to know if high intensity ultrasonic frequencies would also harm us. For the answer, we turned to electronics engineer James Windmill, of the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.

JAMES WINDMILL (University of Strathclyde):

There has been work which suggests that humans can actually detect ultrasound in some way. So if you can generate enough ultrasonic power, then yes, you could conceivably do damage to a human’s ears if the conditions are correct.


But not to worry, John. He says practically speaking, most people will never be exposed to such extreme conditions. And if you have a science question, give us a call at 1-800-why-isit. If we use your question, we’ll send you a Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.