back to article Forget infrasound, now it's ultrasound that's making you ill (allegedly)

Add gun-muffs to your tinfoil hat: the latest "stuff is making you sick" claim to garner headlines is about ultrasound. In this paper in Proceedings A of The Royal Society, University of Southampton professor Tim Leighton says you're exposed to ultrasound pretty much everywhere, pretty much all the time. You just don't know …

  1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    We are in Stephen King's Room 1408. Deal with it!

    "migraine, nausea, tinnitus, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, feelings of ‘pressure’"

    Sounds like my workday allright, if you add the pressure from "URGENT!++" mails.

    1. Jos V

      Re: We are in Stephen King's Room 1408. Deal with it!

      Destroy. Not really my workday. That part is my tranquility zone. It's more like the part that starts after getting home :-p

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: We are in Stephen King's Room 1408. Deal with it!

      If you suddenly stop feeling all that, run for the exit...

      (Yes, there is a Dilbert cartoon on this, but right now I can't be asked to search for it and provide a link. Sorry for any inconvenience.)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What next?

    Are infra-red remote controls and LiFi going to be fingered as the next health pandemic? We already hear a lot about ultraviolet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What next?

      Any mysterious and invisible energy or substance in our environment that isn't essential for life will serve your hard-core hypochondriac well.

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: What next?

        "Any mysterious and invisible energy or substance in our environment..."

        Damn Midichlorians!!

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: What next?

      I believe IR already has been tapped back in the '60's as many TV remote controls used it. Oh.. don't forget the radiation from the picture tube.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: What next?

        Oh.. don't forget the radiation from the picture tube.

        Apparently a period of several months close contact with the neck of the tube was required to cause any significant radiation damage. Of course the portion of your body in such intimate contact would have long been burnt away by the heat.

        I believe our main health problems are caused by doctors.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: What next?

          "I believe our main health problems are caused by doctors."

          I believe our main health problems are caused by a lack of exercise, a poor diet, old age, and smoke. (Note that I didn't say "smoking", I said "smoke". Think about it.)

          1. Pompous Git Silver badge

            Re: What next?

            I believe our main health problems are caused by a lack of exercise, a poor diet, old age, and smoke.

            I agree, but consider the following:

            The third highest cause of death in the US (and let that stand for most of the First World) is iatrogenic disease. That is, disease caused directly by medical interventions. There's a reasonable overview here:


            The medical profession combat what is being called "the obesity epidemic" by recommending restricting fats and increasing the proportion of carbohydrates in the diet. If a farmer such as myself want to fatten an animal, we don't restrict fats, we feed the animal luxury amounts of carbohydrates. It would appear that the medical profession remains wilfully ignorant of what farmers have known for centuries. Obesity is supposedly the cause of the increase in Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

            I am having a problem with my heart specialist over his recommendations for recovery from heart failure. He dismissed the only research paper I could find dealing with the intervention (restriction of fluid intake to 1.5L/day). A research paper a friend pointed me to states the following: "Fluid restriction is not an evidence-based therapy". The European Society of Cardiologists Guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic heart failure 2012 mentions fluid restriction only as a possible intervention for patients suffering natraemia (acute sodium deficiency). Most consumers of food-like substances from supermarkets have excessive sodium in their diet.

            So yes, smoke is a problem. The smoke being blown up our arses. BTW, blowing smoke up patients arses used to be mainstream medical procedure used to bring dead people back to life.

            Incidentally the fluid restriction of 1.5 L/day regardless of body mass induced in me weakness, dizziness and confusion such that I could not undertake exercise, never mind safely. The Guide to Heart Failure provided by the cardiologist also recommended giving up alcohol. According to this report from The Association of Alcohol Consumption and Incident Heart Failure, that's the worst possible response to heart failure:


            The best outcome is from drinking two standard drinks per day, so that's what I will be consuming.

            1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

              Re: What next?

              "The best outcome is from drinking two standard drinks per day ... "

              I agree, I'm already up to 2024.

              The old ones are the best, and good luck with your recovery.

              1. Pompous Git Silver badge

                Re: What next?

                @ Trigonoceps occipitalis

                Many thanks. Fortunately I'm happy enough with two glasses of watered wine per day. I have substituted the third with a glass of water. For many a year now when I go to the pub I order a half pint of soda water to accompany each glass of wine.

                I suspect recovery will be a long, hard slog motivated by intense curiosity about the world that would take several lifetimes to satisfy :-)

  3. x 7

    see? I knew all those echo-locating bats were dangerous.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Only the ones with lasers.

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        But at least they are not in the water.

  4. a_yank_lurker Silver badge


    I remember recently seeing a review that conclude at least half the "scientific" articles printed are pure garbage. In areas, notably medicine the percentage was much higher.

    I wonder if the study bothered to control for age related effects as older people generally have more minor medical issues than youngsters. I have some of the symptoms but they are not related to ultrasounds, just the fact I am getting decrept.

    1. smartermind

      Re: Yawn

      You may mock, but these symptoms are more likely to be experienced by youngsters than old fogies who have decrepit hearing anyway. Luckily I am oblivious to all externally generated radiation and sounds, my only problem is the internally generated and incessant tinnitus brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrsssssssssshhhhhhhhhrrrrrr!

  5. jake Silver badge

    It's a trifle early for ...

    ... the Silly Season, Shirley!

  6. Charles Manning

    I saw three rabbits die of lead poisoning last night.

    I watched it all happen through a telescopic sight.

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      Re: I saw three rabbits die of lead poisoning last night.

      Jest not, these rabbits may well have passed on the 'infection' - Intake of game birds in the UK: Assessment of the contribution to the dietary intake of lead by women of childbearing age and children from

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: I saw three rabbits die of lead poisoning last night.

      The question remains ... Were they tasty? What was the preparation method?

      Inquiring minds & all that :-)

  7. lambda_beta

    Old News

    Nazis tried this in WWII. They had some success with it.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Old News

      Are you sure about your sources?

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Old News

        I thought Biggles managed to destroy all those (along with a time traveler from the 80's iirc)

  8. Hero Protagonist

    Coming soon to a phone near you?

    Coincidentally, there was just an article on Engadget about a company Elliptic Labs) that proposes using ultrasound from your phone's speaker to replace the proximity sensor

  9. Winkypop Silver badge

    Project MKUltra


    Set tin foil hats to 'stun'

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Project MKUltra

      Uh oh, you're on the list now.... One shouldn't speak of MKUltra in public. Many years ago I was at a Roger Waters concert, and a guy in line behind us was rambling on about MKUltra, a while later security removed him from the line. I don't know what the connection was...

    2. hplasm Silver badge

      Re: Project MKUltra

      MKUltra- Don't they make 13A plugs...?

  10. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    ...Aliasing artefacts...

    As were clearly audible on the FM Radio 4 piece discussing it yesterday morning (and which the presenter couldn't hear!).

    Disappointing, really; I *know* the BBC has better DACs than that but I suppose the filters on the front end don't see zero level at 15kHz very often.

    ---> man in headphones.

  11. chivo243 Silver badge

    Is this any different

    than the subsonic woofers Aerosmith used in the early 70's?

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      Re: Is this any different

      I have a subsonic woofer - coincidentally he was chasing rabbits (see above) earlier this morning.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    White LED's caused cancer in my goldfish. I don't have any proof, you'll just have to take my word for it. Where do I claim my 15 minutes?

  13. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    Repeat after me: everything can kill you. It just depends on the dosage.

    Re mechanisms/what actually happens: my guess would be that the sound pressure level(s) come into play here. The sound pressure is there, even if you can't hear the sound as it's not in the frequency range you can percieve. The human ear is a fascinating bit of gear, but also quite delicate.

  14. Kevin Johnston

    Prior Art

    Omni magazine were here back in the 70's/80's with a prediction masked as a cartoon. Large conference room full of people in white lab coats and the person at the head of the table standing up saying..

    'It had to happen, we have now proved everything gives you cancer'

  15. G0HJQ

    There's a company which is hoping to use ultrasonic energy to charge mobile phones wirelessly ...

    They are proposing to use sound levels of 145 to 155 45kHz to 75kHz ... millions of times more than we are ever likely to get from normal sources, yet no-one will mind because it will let them spend more time on facebook and twitter complaining about it.

  16. Chris Miller

    I don't know about emitting it, but mobile phones aren't much use for detecting ultrasound. I researched whether there were apps to use a mobile as a bat detector (25-50kHz). There are, but you need to use an external ultrasonic microphone, which costs about as much as a low-end, dedicated bat detector.

    1. PNGuinn

      @ chris Miller

      "a low-end, dedicated bat detector."

      Why would you want to detect bats dedicated to flying low rather than bats just flying low for the hell of it??

      Enquiring minds etc.

      Thanks, mine's the one with the bag of guano in the pocket...

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: @ chris Miller

        Thanks, mine's the one with the bag of guano in the pocket...

        No shit? Feel free to empty it on my garden ;-)

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At least papers like this fulfil the 'publish or get sacked' position, they also keep the grant money rolling in by pandering to the hypochondriac portion of the population.

  18. John Sturdy

    Won't someone think of the doggies?

    I doubt that cleaning up on ultrasound emissions will make much difference to humans, but other species might appreciate it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Won't someone think of the doggies?

      Ah, the terrorism link: Dog whistles are next to be banned on aircraft.

  19. AbeSapian

    So, in summary:

    We don't know if this is anything but we thought we'd throw this scare around because ...

    1) it seemed like a good idea at the time?

    2) we can?

    3) we plan to make some money off this down the road?

  20. Highroads

    Bat detector fun

    I recently purchased a digital bat detector from Peersonic. It samples directly at 384 kHz with an ultrasonic microphone and you can listen to the sound slowed down by up to a factor of 20. It will write a sound file to an SD card and you can connect to a PC with USB to download the files. You can process them with a program like Audacity. It is a really cool gadget to have.

    Since the bats near us are taking a well-earned winter rest I've been listening to other things. Jingly keys slowed down sound like really huge keys. Surprisingly, a nice source of ultrasound seems to be a fast running stream of water from a tap into a metal sink. I measured some fountains and they also had a peak around 30kHz.

  21. RichardB

    Inner ears

    If anyone out there has suffered even a fairly mild upset in their inner ear, they'll know just how bad your ears can make you feel.

    Just because the sound doesn't make the sound detector bit function within operational parameters, it doesn't mean other bits aren't being jiggled around enough to cause some unpleasant feelings.

    We already know low frequency sounds can harm or cause transitory effects, we know audible frequencies can cause extreme pain, headaches and so on. What makes anyone imagine that higher frequencies don't? Seems a bit daft to assume that they are harmless.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: Inner ears

      Just because the sound doesn't make the sound detector bit function within operational parameters, it doesn't mean other bits aren't being jiggled around enough to cause some unpleasant feelings.

      Indeed! A friend who has severe tinnitus joined an Internet support group of sufferers from this annoying complaint. He was told that there was good news and bad news. The good news is that tinnitus won't kill you. The bad news is that tinnitus won't kill you. Some months later, the original moderator of the group committed suicide and my friend is now chief moderator.

    2. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: Inner ears

      What makes anyone imagine that higher [inaudible] frequencies don't? Seems a bit daft to assume that they are harmless.

      Next thing you know they'll be telling us that invisible things cause diseases like pneumonia and syphilis!

      1. adnim Silver badge

        Re: Inner ears

        "Next thing you know they'll be telling us that invisible things cause diseases like pneumonia and syphilis!"

        Only overly promiscuous incubi and succubi.

  22. YetAnotherCommenter

    This is real, at least for some people.

    Mr Chegwin, this is real for at least some people. Do you really think it OK that people fill buildings with very loud sounds in the hearing range of children, and then don't even advertise it to the adults?

    Ironically, 10 years ago I used to read The Register, in my quiet IT job in a large office with a Public Address Voice Alarm, unaware that every 15 or 30 seconds a fairly large pulse of sound at 20 kHz filled the room. At that job I had problems with my ears in the office on a virtually daily basis, which my ENT explained were due to noise, and which neither the ENT nor I ever understood as I was working in a relatively quiet environment. I stopped that particular job and the ear problems went away.

    More recently I've known that animal deterrents affect me (and children) - some manufacturers know that too and put warnings in their products.

    It was only this year that I revisited those offices that I used to work in (with ear problems) to find that they all contained a loud 20 kHz pulse of sound every 30 or 15 seconds, which I measured on my phone. Neither my ENT, or I, realised that it was there until now. This information literally wasn't available until Prof Leighton published it in 2016 - so no need for the sarcasm on this particular subject.

    I was young - my hearing was good - why on earth was I expected to work in a building with these loud tones being pumped in by the Public Address system? This is discrimination against young people! Then that information was not provided by my employers (who were probably also unaware that it was there, as they worked in the building too), so when I went to ENT for consistent ear problems, no wonder the doctor couldn't diagnose me. Thousands of other people are sitting in these tones at work everyday - how many other people are having similar problems but unable to make a link?

    I can still hear these tones (as can my children) and prolonged exposure makes me feel really unwell.

    This issue of high levels of ultrasound in air in public places causing migraines or affecting hearing is real. It will be much, much worse for babies and children who cannot just leave a place if they feel unwell.

    Think about it. When you were a child, you could hear 20 kHz tones. Maybe you can't now, but a loud pulse at 20 kHz still vibrates your ear drum and part of your ear now as it did when you were a baby. If you have your ear drum vibrated at high levels, ether constantly or every 30 seconds, don't you think that you might get at minimum rather tired? With prolonged exposure (some people work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week without any knowledge of this), that is a lot of exposure.

    Young people are complaining about these tones. In 2015, the Children's Right Alliance for England submitted a report to the United Nations following a survey of 840 children.

    10% of children who completed the survey had been affected by a [high-pitched noise] device and described what this was like:

    ‘Borderline painful high pitched sound coming from a house on my street. Have to walk past there to get the bus.’ (Female, 14)

    ‘I was trying to get into a shop but there was a horrible high pitched noise.’ (Male, 13)

    ‘A house in an elderly residential area, it irritates my hearing and thought process as it is so high pitched but adults are not aware of the horrific feeling it makes you have.’ (Female, 17)

    No, we don't fully understand the long term health implications. I don't suppose anyone here is going to volunteer to find them out personally. I've had more than my fair of exposure, and I now have high frequency tinnitus from a lot of exposure to very high frequencies and ultrasound along with a tendency for migraines. I think we can consider tinnitus a pretty common long term health implication of loud noise.

    Certainly companies buying systems should choose ones without ultrasound in if they want their customers and employees to be comfortable and stay in their buildings.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: This is real, at least for some people.

      So I guess that NTSC television flyback noise, caused by magnetostriction, at just a hair under 16KHz, caused most of the developed world to become ill over the last four generations of adults?

      Yeah. Sure. Right. Pull the other one.

      1. YetAnotherCommenter

        Re: This is real, at least for some people.

        No-one's saying that.

        Some people *have* reported problems with the high pitched tones from CRT TVs. Google it and you'll find multiple complaints. I've spoken to people who've said the high pitched sound of CRT monitors would give them headaches after working there for several hours - they are pleased that they have flat screen monitors these days so that issue has finally resolved. Also, the CRT monitors I've measured the high pitch tones of have far quieter high-pitched tones than the tones measured in public buildings in this paper.

        The point of the paper is that very high levels of borderline audible/ultrasound are put into places that the public are supposed be, exceeding the inadequate guidelines that exist and with no warning. It's not surprising that some people are having problems when the few guidelines that exist are being ignored.

      2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: This is real, at least for some people.

        Over here, we have PAL, pal.

        Which reminds me, my parent's first colour TV had an ultrasound remote control - and I could hear that thing. Then. Bet I couldn't now.

        That being said, high frequency sounds are being used to keep youths away from certain locations. Although recent tests show that flooding the area with elevator-style muzak or classical music works even better. As long as they can't reach and smash the speakers, that is.

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