Protesting? Take a mask—AND hearing protection!

Photo credit: Z22 licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Been to a protest rally recently? You may have seen a cop car with a 2ft x 2ft box on the roof….What is it? Likely, it’s a long-range acoustical device, or LRAD, that emits an unbearable and ear-damaging signal intended to induce panic and temporary incapacity. First developed for the military, these devices are now in use by police in some cities to “control”/incapacitate protesters. Lynne Peskoe-Yang, in Popular Mechanics‘ weapons column, wrote an excellent summary of the subject that you should read and circulate to your friends and acquaintances.

Along with tear gas, tasers, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets, LRADs are serious weapons—sonic weapons—that you need to prepare for because damage to your hearing will be permanent.

How damaging are LRADs? They can inflict serious pain, destroy your hearing, and leave you with permanent hearing damage. But police have been told they’re “harmless.” So expect indiscriminate use.

So be sure to wear or carry good earplugs AND earmuffs when you hit the street to join a protest march or rally. Once your hearing is gone, there’s no way to get it back. And the 16 million Americans who have tinnitus and/or hyperacusis can attest that hearing damage can be very, very painful and disabling.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Comments (2)

  1. Debby Quashen

    For anyone with hyperacusis as well as tinnitus, how does one know how to choose the right protective ear plugs or sound dampening headphones?

  2. Daniel FInk


    David Sykes has asked me to respond to your inquiry. I’m not certain if your question is about earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones for LRAD noise, or in general. For LRAD noise I doubt that any standard earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones would work very well.

    For tinnitus and hyperacusis more generally (BTW, I also have both) it’s a personal choice. There are a wide variety of earplugs (I like the Earplugs Store online and recommend buying one of their “variety packs” to see which specific ear plug fits your ear canal best) and their effectiveness is measured by the NRR, Noise Reduction Rating. Please be aware that the actual effectiveness in use is only half the measured NRR.

    For noise-cancelling headphones, there are many brands. Bose gets the best reviews but their products are the most expensive. Again, whatever is most comfortable for you.

    Hope this helps.


    Daniel Fink MD


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