Also called sonography, ultrasound imaging is a non-invasive procedure that involves high-frequency sound waves that penetrate through various objects or materials, even the human tissues. Most commonly used in prenatal care, ultrasound allows doctors to track the growth and development of a baby inside the mother’s womb. It is also used to spot abnormalities in various internal organs, such as the heart.
Apart from the traditional ultrasound imaging technique used in hospitals and clinics, did you know there are also commercial and industrial applications of ultrasound?
With the high demand for ultrasound particularly among pregnant women, more and more companies are providing commercial ultrasound services. Also called ‘keepsake’ ultrasound, it allows families to get a real-time image of their growing baby. The use of commercial ultrasound is permitted even without medical advice from a licensed physician. Ultrasound is also used in other industries apart from healthcare. In fact, the industrial use of ultrasound technology amounts to $100 million a year.
Commercial ultrasound is commonly used these days as a means to take a preview of a developing baby inside the mother’s womb. The purpose is more personal than medical. Many parents choose to get a commercial ultrasound as a keepsake or souvenir. 4D fetal video ultrasounds record the baby’s movements. One session can last up to 2 hours. While ultrasound imaging is considered a non-invasive procedure, the length of time it takes to record a fetal video concerns many physicians and health experts. While companies offering commercial ultrasound services claim that the procedure does not cause any harm to the mother and the baby, experts believe that casual exposure (exposure beyond what is considered safe for the fetus) should be avoided.
The US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) is among the health associations that express reservations over the use of commercial ultrasound. Up until now, the long-term effects of prolonged ultrasound exposure have not been fully known. Health authorities keep repeating that ultrasounds should be performed only for medical reasons and performed by trained professionals, such as obstetricians, radiologists, and sonographers. The FDA also disapproves of the use of this ultrasound device for keepsake purposes and view it as a violation of state or local laws or regulations concerning the use of medical devices. Another important reason why health authorities only advise getting ultrasound service from trained professionals is that congenital problems in the baby may not be fully determined or diagnosed in commercial ultrasound scanning sessions.
Ultrasound sometimes is used to increase bone formation, for instance in post-surgical applications. Ultrasound treatments or exposure can create cavitation that potentially may result in a syndrome involving manifestations of nausea, headache, tinnitus, pain, dizziness, and fatigue.
The ultrasound technology is not only used in clinics, laboratories, and hospitals. It is also used in various industries where it is actually referred to as ‘ultrasonic’. High-frequency sound waves are used to penetrate a material to determine its internal quality without causing any damage to it. The process is called ‘ultrasonic inspection’ and is commonly used in manufacturing aircraft. Ultrasound scanning has many other industrial applications. For example, it is used by scuba divers and submarines to detect objects underwater, analyze the purity and uniformity of liquids and solids, create heat to weld plastics, and so on. Ultrasound is also incorporated in high-end security systems to detect even the slightest movements in a specific area, as well as in humidifiers.
Contact exposure to high-frequency sound waves has been shown to have some impact on health. Ultrasonic humidifiers, for example, can cause tissue injury. There have been reports that direct contact of the finger to the ultrasonic beam from an ultrasonic humidifier can cause sharp pain which is likely due to overheating of the bone. Health experts also express concern over the health effects of airborne ultrasonic particularly in people working on jet aircraft. Furthermore, airborne ultrasound has also been linked to temporary problems particularly among ultrasonic cleaners and welder operators. Other physiological effects of ultrasound exposure loss of balance stability and reduced motor responses. Moreover, occupational exposure to ultrasound in excess of 120 dB may lead to hearing loss. Exposure in excess of 155 dB may produce heating effects that are harmful to the human body, and it has been calculated that exposures above 180 dB may lead to death
Guidelines for Safety Use of Commercial & Industrial Ultrasound
In commercial ultrasound, the shorter the exposure, the better. In most cases, however, fetal video recording can take anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours, sometimes even longer. Operators should be well-trained in handling this device and should take proper measures. Furthermore, the use of high-quality sonogram gel is crucial to prevent damage in the machine and ensure the accuracy and clarity of ultrasound scans.
Experts agree that contact exposure when using high-power ultrasound devices should be avoided at all times. Only trained operators and personnel under strict supervision should be allowed in the working area where the equipment is being used. In addition, operators and personnel should know about the harmful effects of commercial and industrial ultrasound to be able to conduct preventive measures.
The use of warning signs within the ultrasound premises is highly recommended, especially in the entrance area. Along with the warning sign should be a statement of the safety measures that personnel and other individuals should take while the ultrasound power is on.
To prevent the auditory health effects of ultrasonic devices, operators should ensure that the equipment doesn’t exceed the maximum permissible exposure level. Airborne exposure can be prevented through proper engineering controls and by installing sound-absorbing materials. If engineering controls are not possible, personnel and operators should make use of a hearing protection gear.
There is no doubt that the ultrasound machine is among the most important technological devices ever invented. A lot is known about its medical uses, such as in prenatal care, diagnosis of pain, swelling and infection in the body’s internal organs, and in the diagnosis and treatment of varying heart conditions. From its prevalent use in the medical field, ultrasound technology has also practical uses in the industrial field. High-frequency waves are so powerful that they are incorporated in the manufacturing of aircraft, exploration of underwater creatures, manufacturing humidifiers, welding plastics, and so on. However, just like any other technology, it poses certain health effects when not used properly. Certain precautionary measures are needed in order to ensure the safety of individuals and/or personnel who use or operate commercial and industrial ultrasound machines.