Helium Gas & the Dangers of Inhalation

Written by michelle norton
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Helium Gas & the Dangers of Inhalation
Giant Helium Balloons (hot air balloon image by MAXFX from Fotolia.com)

The funny voice associated with breathing in helium gas sounds harmless, however, helium replaces the oxygen in your blood. With extended exposure, this could cause you to suffocate. In the United States, there is an average of only one or fewer helium-related deaths per year, according to the U.S. Poison Control Center. While breathing a small amount from a helium balloon probably won't hurt you, it can be dangerous in large quantities and under certain circumstances.

Passing Out

The longer you breathe in helium, the longer the funny voice lasts. If you go for too long you will pass out and resume breathing normally again, which will save your life. However falling when you pass out can cause injuries such as broken bones or a knock on the head. Head injuries from falling after passing out may only need a few stitches or could cause massive brain trauma.

Lung Explosion

Breathing in helium from a pressurised tank causes your lungs to inflate quickly. When your lungs expand too quickly it can cause a blowout---like a tire with too much air. Then you can die quickly from internal bleeding.


Asphyxiation is when you starve your body of oxygen. Many helium-related deaths come from people putting their heads into helium-filled balloons. Eventually they pass out, but because their heads are inside the balloon they continue to suffocate.

Brain Damage

Depriving your brain of oxygen causes brain damage. When you breathe in helium until you pass out, that deprives the brain of oxygen. The brain uses 20 per cent of the oxygen you breathe in. Every time you deprive the brain it thinks you need less oxygen and uses less. This causes your brain function to slow down resulting in memory loss or even brain death if the brain is tricked into thinking you need no oxygen. Brain damage will not occur if you only breathe in small amounts of helium but there is no way to measure how much helium it will take until you pass out.

Helium in Liquid Form

Liquid helium is stored at below freezing temperatures. Trying to breathe helium in its liquid form will give you frostbite and you could lose any skin or body part that is exposed to it.

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