3D Helium Element Representation on Black Background 3D Helium Element Representation on Black Background

Should You Inhale Helium – and What can Go Wrong?

Haven’t we all done that party trick where you inhale some gas from a balloon and voila, you have a new, funny voice? And this new voice is all shrill and high-pitched, and is always entertaining.

The said gas that we inhale to modulate our voice is known as Helium. The jokes and laughs aside, is this gas safe to inhale? What are its effects on the human brain? Let’s find out.

1. What does Helium do to Your Voice?

First, let us understand why our voice changes when we inhale helium. The basic mechanism is that it gets attached to the vocal cords, causing them to vibrate, but at a frequency higher than the normal, hence the shrillness.

The dangerous part here is that when you inhale helium, your body gets filled with helium and depleted of oxygen, creating a problem.

Oxygen, as we know, is required by the body for nearly every important function, and its absence – even for a short duration – can create big problems.

When the body is getting only helium, it is being put it under unnecessary pressure, a risk of breathlessness, nausea, and in extreme cases, of death.

Wat does helium do with your voice, a flute or bagpipes? - Rapalje Show 34
Effect of Helium on Human Voice, a Flute and Bagpipes

2. What Happens when you Inhale Helium?

The most obvious, and visible, reaction to helium is that your voice gets altered. Usually, the effects of inhaling helium from a balloon are temporary, meaning they will go away in 10-15 minutes, and you will start breathing normally again.

However, this is not the only result. You may also feel dizzy, nauseous, and lightheaded. In some cases, you might pass out as well.

So, I would not really recommend this seemingly fun activity because it can lead to asphyxiation and other health issues.

According to the studies conducted in 2020 by the National Library of Science, there have been around 2000 injuries in the United States alone due to helium inhalation. Moreover, a majority of the patients are kids aged between 6-12 years.

3. What about Helium from Other Sources?

Thus far we have been talking about inhalation from a balloon, which has lesser harmful ramifications. But if you inhale it from any other source, it could actually be much more dangerous.

For instance, if you inhale helium from a tank, it will have a very high pressure, making the force with which it is released very strong. Therefore, the quantity inhaled would be very high in a very short period of time.

Blue Gas Cylinders With Gauges Stock
Helium Tanks (Source: Depositphotos)

And if you breathe into pure helium for even a small duration, it might lead to serious asphyxiation leading to death within a couple of minutes.

It is capable of forming a bubble and getting into your blood vessels, thus blocking the blood flow. If it is bad enough, it may even rupture your lungs or cause a serious hemorrhage.

4. Can you Get High on Helium?

Helium is not an addictive drug, but people can actually get high on it. This is because the vapors of helium get absorbed quickly in the lungs. So, the high or feeling of excitement that comes from alcohol consumption can also happen with the use of helium.

Can You Get High on Helium?

It may even become addictive due to the fact that you have to consume it again and again after a short duration because the high lasts for only a few minutes.

5. Other Side Effects of Inhaling Helium

Although we now know that it is not toxic, it can become very dangerous if you inhale it for long durations and at a high pressure. Due to inhalation, there is a change in air density which makes the process of breathing difficult causing damage to your lungs.

Most of the time the symptoms go away in a few minutes but if you experience a low blood pressure, chest pain, blurred vision, seizures, trouble breathing, or irregular heart rate, you should contact your doctor.

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Blurred Vision, Dizziness (Source: Christian Erfurt on Unsplash)

Some people think that due to the voice alteration effect that is achieved by inhaling helium your voice gets permanently changed so maybe it does not come back to the same pitch.

However, in most cases that is not what happens. Anyhow, you should keep the risks in mind any time you are planning to inhale helium even if for fun. Always make sure that anyone with a heart condition must strictly avoid inhaling helium.

Now assuming that you have just inhaled helium and you are worrying if you’re in danger. The answer might be that it’s unlikely since helium is mostly harmless in a small amount with an instantaneous return of oxygen. However, this does not mean that you take it directly from a tank just to prove a point 🙂

It is highly likely that you might feel dizzy and a slight loss of consciousness but that can be managed if you sit down and breathe out all the unnecessary gases from your system.

6. Does Helium Kill Brain Cells?

The only way that helium can intensively affect your brain is due to the role reversal it plays with oxygen. As helium replaces oxygen in the body it can lead to brain damage due to the absence of oxygen in the blood.

Oxygen is literally the fuel of the body and is necessary for proper functioning. Due to a lack of oxygen, the brain stops functioning which can even lead to organ failure in extreme cases.

Brain Danger Signal Concept Yellow Ribbon
Helium may pose danger to the brain cells (Source: Depositphotos)

7. Final Thoughts

It is all fun and games at a party, but we can now safely say that it is not really the best idea to inhale helium. It can lead to suffocation among other issues and should not be tried especially in front of children so that they are not encouraged to try such activities either.

Last Updated on April 8, 2024 by Bhumika Aggarwal


Anushree Khandelwal
  1. Inhaling helium might temporarily alter your voice, providing a fun and amusing experience. However, the article rightly emphasizes the potential dangers associated with this seemingly harmless activity. The risk of oxygen deprivation during helium inhalation can lead to serious consequences such as breathlessness, nausea, and even death. The detailed explanation of the side effects and potential hazards serves as a valuable cautionary note. It’s crucial to be aware of the risks and prioritize safety, especially considering the reported injuries, particularly among children. Overall, an informative piece shedding light on the hidden dangers behind a seemingly lighthearted activity.

  2. Inhaling helium, though fun for voice modulation, poses serious risks. When inhaled, helium replaces oxygen, leading to breathlessness, nausea, and, in extreme cases, asphyxiation or death. The altered voice effect is temporary, lasting 10-15 minutes, but the dangers are significant. Studies report around 2000 injuries in the US, mostly among children aged 6-12.

  3. I found this article to be both informative and intriguing. The idea of helium impacting brain cells might sound far-fetched, but the scientific explanation provided here makes a lot of sense. It’s essential to debunk myths and provide accurate information. Kudos to the author for tackling a seemingly unusual question with a thorough and well-researched response.

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