Helium is an odorless, colorless gas you often find in balloons. Children may unintentionally inhale the gas that may affect their voices. Some people inhale the gas intentionally though to change their voices and sound like a high-pitched cartoon character. But the thing is, are there any side effects of inhaling helium? Keep reading to find your answer.
Is Helium Bad for You?
Not really, helium is generally safe; however, you may find yourself in trouble if you inhale it repeatedly. It means there are situations when helium inhalation can be deadly, especially if you try to inhale it from a pressurized canister. Why, you may ask? It happens because helium displaces oxygen from your lungs and leads to issues such as dizziness, suffocation, and falls.
Suffocation may happen if you go inside a giant helium balloon, but you may still experience side effects by taking a few breaths from a balloon. Though extremely rare, it is possible to experience sudden sniffing death syndrome when helium damage lung tissue – this usually happens in children. Sniffing death syndrome is a kind of cardiac arrest and is lethal.
What About Inhaling Helium from a Commercial System?
With helium balloon-filling systems becoming popular, it is quite common to see these systems in party supply stores, supermarkets, and variety stores. A typical commercial balloon-filling system has a helium cylinder, pressure flow regulator, shut-off valve, and tilt valve with balloon adapter. This system can fill balloons rapidly because it is capable of delivering a maximum gas flow rate of up to 5-cubic feet per minute. The pressure regulator and cylinder pressure determine the maximum flow rate though.
Is helium bad for you if you inhale it from a commercial balloon-filling system? Yes, it can be extremely dangerous. You are always at a risk of passing out and may even sustain a fatal injury in the process. There are cases where young people died while trying to inhale helium from commercial systems. It is important to mention though that fatal injuries do not occur due to chemical reaction but the pressure of the gas can lead to dire consequences. The pressure can actually rupture your air sacs in the lungs that results in instant death. Even cardiopulmonary resuscitation does not prove effective in this case.
How Does Helium Change the Sound of Your Voice?
Different factors determine the sound of your voice – the list includes the shape of your mouth, the air you breathe in, and the shape of your tongue, nasal passages, and throat.
Your voice begins in the larynx, which contains two folded mucous membranes called vocal cords. These membranes vibrate as air passes through them, and these vibrations resonate throughout your nasal passages, throat, tongue, mouth, and lips to create the sounds. The air that causes these vibrations is made up of oxygen and nitrogen, and is much denser than helium. That funny sound you make after inhaling helium is because of your voice traveling fast through your vocal cords.
What you need to understand is that helium does not affect the frequency at which your vocal cords vibrate. It means it does not change the pitch of your voice, but it changes the sound quality of your voice. Moreover, the change does not last long and you can make funny sounds only until there is helium around your vocal cords. Your voice becomes normal when you inhale regular air that replaces the helium. Just keep in mind that you should not try to inhale helium in higher quantities just to make funny sounds because that can be harmful, especially if the pressure is on the higher side.