Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Is Helium Bad For You?

Also Known As: He (periodic table)



Short answer

When inhaled, helium displaces oxygen. This is extremely dangerous and can lead to death in extreme cases.



Long answer

Irrespective of how fun it may be to have a helium-induced high-pitched voice, the fact is, inhaling helium is dangerous and potentially life threatening. Helium (He), the second most abundant element in the known universe, is a colorless and odorless gas. When inhaled, helium displaces oxygen. The immediate effect of this is most commonly dizziness. In fact, people who huff helium as a recreational activity may be mistaking oxygen deprivation for a "high" - which would come not as a result of lack of oxygen, but via increased dopamine levels. Too much helium at once can lead to death by anoxia (lack of sufficient oxygen). 

Not only is helium an immediate threat, but so is the way in which it enters the body. Those who get helium from a tank, for example, are at a greater risk of suffering from an air embolism or rupturing a lung. People (usually children) who inhale helium from balloons are at risk not only of ingesting too much helium, but also taking in small fragments of the balloon itself, leading to the additional possibility of choking. 

The conclusion to be drawn from these facts is that aside from being a cool party trick, inhaling helium is a dangerous stunt that can lead to death, with even small amounts of helium being enough to displace oxygen levels leading to fatality.

Possible short-term side effects

  • dizziness
  • unconsciousness
  • air embolism
  • ruptured lung
  • choking
  • death (rare, but possible)

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Written by Jeff Volling | 02-07-2016

Written by Jeff Volling
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