4 Top Risks of Inhaling Helium From a Balloon, 3 Big Cases (Died)

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Helium is the second most overflow element in the universe after hydrogen, with accounted for 23% of all the mass of the universe. Helium is heads the noble gas group in the periodic table and has the second lightest element after hydrogen. The main sources of helium in the world are a series of natural gas fields in the United States. Its characteristics are odorless, tasteless, colorless and non-toxic. This gas is less soluble in water than others and hardly form a chemical compounds with other elements (less reactive). Its vapor density and viscosity are very low, yet its thermal conductivity and calories are very high. Helium can be liquefied, but must be done in a very low temperature and high pressure.

Helium Facts

  • Symbol : He
  • Atomic number : 2
  • Atomic mass : 4,00260 g/mol
  • Electro negativity (Pauling) : unknown
  • Melting point : – 272,2 (26 atm) °C
  • Boiling point : – 268,9 °C
  • Van der Waals radius : 0.118 nm
  • Ionic radius : unknown
  • Isotope : 2
  • Discoverers : Sir William Ramsay (1895)

Helium Uses Around the World

It has many uses around the world, such as a superconducting magnet in MRI scanners and NMR spectrometers, a cooling medium for the LHC, keep satellite instruments cool, cooling the liquid oxygen and hydrogen for Apollo space vehicles, provide an inert protective atmosphere for making fiber optics and semiconductors, detects leaks in air-conditioning systems and filling decorative balloons. We will explain more about the last point, which are the effects and dangers posed if we inhale helium from the balloon.

The Dangers of Inhaling Helium

At birthday party or any event that is using balloons as decorative stuff, kids or teenagers usually making a game by inhaling helium from the balloons and then talk to each other, producing funny noises like a cartoon character. Many of them think it is funny and have not realized the dangers behind it. While most kids and teens inhale helium from a balloon, some adults use a pressurized tank, which is particularly dangerous. Even worse, they use it as a recreational drug. Adolescents using helium reported that it makes them feel like poisoned. Still, it is uncertain whether the users get an actual “high” from inhaling it, or it is just the feeling of dizziness as a result of the lack of oxygen.

Experts believe that it is a very dangerous activity that could cause a serious health problems. Because helium is not seen as a dangerous drug, users may not consider it as a risk to their health. If only they knew that many accidents had been happened, they would not have done that.

Accidents after inhaling helium

Fatalities have been recorded concerning about inhaling helium :

  1. An Australian girl (Victoria, 1998) fell unconsciousafter inhaling helium from a party balloon.
  2. A youth (Vancouver, 2003) suffocated after inhaling helium.
  3. A junior high school student (Oregon, 2012) died after inhaling helium. She was forced to inhaling helium by her friends to make some joke. Unfortunately, instead of obtained a laugh, sadness was appeared. She died because of the oxygen flow in the body displaced by helium.

More terrible thing is that the fact that helium is dangerous caused some people who are desperate to use it as a suicide tools. In order to make you more understand about the dangers of inhaling helium, we will give you the reasons, as follows :

1. Increasing the risk of asphyxia

Helium acts as a simple asphyxiant, displacing oxygen in the body and increasing the risk of suffocation when present in high concentrations. The symptoms are sudden loss of consciousness, dizziness, nausea, uncontrolled falling,  seizures, visual disturbances, headaches and asphyxiation. Breathing pure helium continuously will causing death by asphyxiation within minutes.

2. Damage the lungs and cause air bubbles

Inhaling helium directly from pressurized tanks is very dangerous. High flow rate of helium can result in barotrauma, fatally impairing lung tissue. Inhaling helium can induce a cerebral arterial gas embolism caused by air bubbles in our bloodstream. Even worse, it can lead to a temporary stroke. Unfortunately, this fact is used in suicide bags design. Inhaling helium from a balloon can make the lungs get an intense pressure. No matter how it is inhaled, anyone is at risk of inhaling too much helium at once and would be passing out.

3. High-pressure nervous syndrome

At high pressures (more than about 20 atm or two MPa), a mixture of helium and oxygen –called heliox- can lead to high-pressure nervous syndrome, a sort of reverse-anesthetic effect. Fortunately, adding a small amount of nitrogen to the mixture can ease the problem.

4. Anoxia

Anoxia means a total depletion in the level of oxygen, called “low oxygen”. It is an extreme form of hypoxia. The terms anoxia and hypoxia are used in various contexts, such as : anoxic water, anoxic event, euxinic, hypoxia (medical and environmental) and cerebral anoxia. The latter is happened when the brain is completely omitted of oxygen, like what happened if someone is inhaling helium.

Answering the question mentioned on the title above : is it safe to inhaling helium? The answer is definitely NO. Now that you know a bit more about the danger of inhaling helium, you should have a friendly talk with your children about this. Tell them to evade some “silly birthday party” which can lead them to do that dreadful thing. And if you have some friends who often use helium as a recreational drug, please tell them to stop doing that and have a better life. Hope this information could help a lot of people.