At one time or another, almost everyone has inhaled helium to entertain others or just oneself with a squeaky, high voice. Helium is an inert gas, meaning that it does not react chemically with the body, nor can it cause cancer or an allergic reaction. In low concentrations, inhaling helium might be safe, however, there are some potentially harmful side effects of helium inhalation which are related to overuse or misuse of the gas.
- Oxygen Deprivation: Oxygen deprivation is considered as the most dangerous effect of exposure to helium gas. The body's cells depend upon oxygen to survive—the brain needs a constant supply of oxygen to remain functional and maintain consciousness. Inhaling helium gas can also result in a person fainting due to the oxygen depletion.
- Lung Rupture: Most people inhale helium from a balloon, but it is also possible to breathe from a pressurized helium tank. This mechanism of helium inhalation introduces another potential risk—lung rupture. The lungs are like balloons, when filled with air they expand, but they can burst if overfilled.
High-Pressure Nervous Syndrome: It has been found that
inhaling helium gas is also known to result in high-pressure nervous syndrome. High-Pressure Nervous Syndrome is a combination of symptoms that includes altered brain waves and scattered, short-term unconscious episodes was well as tremors in the extremities. However, this condition is only known to occur as a result of prolonged
exposure to the helium gas, which is highly pressurized.
Thus, it is safest to avoid inhaling helium.