Is Helium Bad for You? Exploring Health Implications and Safety Concerns

Helium, an element you often associate with party balloons and high-pitched voices, might seem harmless to you. But have you ever wondered if inhaling this lighter-than-air gas could actually be dangerous? Let’s take a closer look at the potential risks involved and whether or not you should think twice before inhaling helium for a moment of laughter.

When you inhale helium, it displaces the oxygen in your lungs, which can lead to side effects such as dizziness, loss of consciousness, and in extreme cases, even death. While it’s true that helium is non-toxic and breathing normal air can quickly reverse these effects, it’s important to consider the possible dangers before deciding to indulge in this seemingly innocent activity.

Moreover, the method you use to inhale helium can also have a significant impact on the potential risks.

What is Helium

Is Helium Bad for You

Helium is a chemical element with the symbol He and atomic number 2. It’s the second lightest element and is a noble gas, which means it is colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, and doesn’t readily form compounds with other elements.

Helium has several unique properties. For instance, it has the lowest boiling and melting points among the elements and it exists only as a gas except in extreme conditions. Helium was first observed in the solar spectrum during the solar eclipse of August 18, 1868 by French astronomer Jules Janssen. The name “helium” originates from the Greek Titan of the Sun, Helios.

It is the second most abundant element in the universe, after hydrogen, and is formed through both the nuclear fusion of hydrogen in stars and the radioactive decay of heavy elements on Earth. Helium is commonly used in a variety of applications.

It is used as a coolant in the superconducting magnets of MRI scanners, as an inert protective atmosphere for arc welding, in airships and balloons because of its buoyancy, and as a leak detector. It’s also used in the manufacturing process of semiconductors and optical fibers.

Despite its abundance in the universe, helium is relatively rare on Earth and most of it is obtained as a byproduct of natural gas extraction. The non-renewable nature of this source has led to concerns about a possible shortage of helium in the future.

Benefits of Helium

Helium offers various benefits to different fields due to its unique properties. In the world of entertainment, helium-filled balloons are popular decorations because of their ability to float in the air. This is due to helium’s lightweight property, being less dense than air.

When you inhale helium, your voice may temporarily change to a higher pitch, creating a squeaky effect. This occurs because sound travels faster through helium compared to air, altering the resonance of your vocal tract.

In the field of medicine, helium has a significant application in MRI machines that use liquid helium to cool their superconducting magnets. This cooling effect is important for maintaining the necessary temperature required for the magnets to function properly. As a patient, it allows 

Helium’s abundance in the universe and its role in the Earth’s atmosphere makes it an important element to study for various scientific purposes. Researchers can glean insights into the formation and evolution of celestial bodies, allowing for a deeper understanding of our world and what lies beyond it.

Pros and Cons of Inhaling Helium

When it comes to inhaling helium, you should be aware of the potential benefits and risks involved. Here, we’ll briefly discuss some of the pros and cons associated with the use of helium.


  • Helium is used in medical applications, such as lung ventilation and pulmonary function testing, as it allows for better gas penetration to the distal alveoli in the lungs. This ensures more effective ventilation when needed.
  • In some laparoscopic surgeries, helium is used instead of carbon dioxide due to its lower risk of complications.


  • The most significant drawback of helium inhalation is that it can displace oxygen in your lungs. This lack of oxygen can lead to dizziness, loss of consciousness, and even death in extreme cases.
  • Inhaling helium from a pressurized gas tank is highly dangerous, as the pressure can cause your lungs to hemorrhage or burst, leading to severe consequences.
  • Helium is a non-renewable resource, so using it irresponsibly can have negative environmental consequences.

General Advice: While helium is generally considered harmless and non-flammable, its misuse can lead to severe dangers. It is crucial that you avoid inhaling helium directly from a balloon or highly-pressurized tank to ensure safety. As with any gas other than oxygen, always exercise caution and be aware of the potential risks when working with helium.

Scientific Studies

In the realm of physics, helium plays a significant role because of its unique properties. At extremely low temperatures, it becomes a superfluid, exhibiting fascinating behaviors such as zero viscosity and the ability to flow without dissipating energy.

Superfluidity contributes to our understanding of fundamental aspects of physics and has practical applications in cryogenics and other low-temperature processes.

Some chemical processes involving helium may affect you directly, particularly when it comes to inhaling the gas. Inhaling helium disrupts the balance of oxygen in your body, potentially leading to side effects such as dizziness, loss of consciousness or, in extreme cases, even death Inhaling helium dangers.

Therefore, it is crucial to be aware of the risks and take precautions when handling helium in any form.

As the second most abundant element in the universe, helium is present throughout the cosmos but has relatively low levels in Earth’s atmosphere due to its lightness Helium in the atmosphere. This makes it an essential resource for various industries and scientific fields, including medicine, aerospace engineering, and semiconductor manufacturing.

Keep in mind that while helium is an essential resource, its properties also hold potential risks, so it’s important to handle it with care and understand the scientific evidence behind its impact on your health and well-being.

What Do Medical Experts Say About Helium?

Medical experts caution that inhaling helium can lead to various health risks. When you inhale helium, it displaces oxygen in your lungs. This may cause dizziness, loss of consciousness, and even death. It is natural to be concerned about the potential side effects of helium inhalation.

As you might expect, one of the most noticeable effects of inhaling helium is a squeaky voice. While this may seem harmless and entertaining, consequences like nausea, headache, and injuries from falls due to dizziness can result from helium inhalation. Consequently, it is essential to be aware of these risks when considering whether to experiment with helium for fun or recreation.

Inhaling significant amounts of helium can also lead to more severe health issues, such as asphyxiation and unconsciousness. It is vital to understand that helium inhalation in a party context is typically not life-threatening, as long as it is stopped once you begin to feel lightheaded or dizzy.

However, fatal asphyxiation is possible if someone continues to inhale helium, leading to unconsciousness and an inability to breathe in oxygen.

Furthermore, helium inhalation can have adverse effects on your blood vessels, increasing the risk of stroke. This risk is particularly significant if someone inhales helium directly from a pressurized container, which can cause the gas to enter the bloodstream at high pressure, potentially leading to blood vessel rupture and stroke.

Who Should Avoid It?

While inhaling helium from a balloon may seem harmless, it can cause oxygen deprivation in your body, which may lead to hazardous situations in certain cases. Specifically, you should be cautious if you belong to any of the following groups:

  • Kids and children: Their developing respiratory systems and smaller lung capacities make them more vulnerable to the risks associated with helium inhalation. It is crucial to supervise children during events where helium balloons are present and discourage them from inhaling the gas.
  • Pregnant women: Oxygen deprivation can not only impact the expectant mother but also harm the developing fetus. Pregnant women should avoid helium inhalation to minimize potential risks.
  • Elderly: With aging, lung function may decline, making it challenging for older individuals to cope with the reduced oxygen levels resulting from helium inhalation. Seniors should stay away from intentionally breathing in helium.
  • Heart patients: People suffering from heart or lung diseases are at an increased risk of facing complications due to oxygen deprivation. Inhaling helium can potentially exacerbate their underlying conditions. It’s best for them to avoid exposure to helium.

Remember, it’s essential to distinguish between inhaling helium from a balloon and doing so from a pressurized tank. Inhaling helium from a pressurized tank is extremely dangerous and should be avoided by everyone. The brief and temporary amusement from the change in voice is not worth the potential risks to your health.

Alternatives to Helium

When considering alternatives to helium, you’ll find several options that can serve similar purposes in various applications. While some alternatives might not exactly mimic helium’s properties, they can provide a practical substitute in certain situations.

First, let’s explore hydrogen as an option. Hydrogen, like helium, is a light gas and can be used for certain applications like balloon inflation. However, it’s important to note that hydrogen is highly flammable, making it much more hazardous to use compared to helium. For this reason, hydrogen might not be the safest choice for all situations.

Another alternative is nitrogen. Nitrogen is widely used in manufacturing and industrial applications. While it is heavier than helium, it can sometimes serve as a more economical choice in situations requiring an inert gas. Nitrogen is commonly used for blanketing and purging sensitive environments due to its non-reactive nature.

As for specific applications, you might consider using other gases or technologies depending on the purpose. In manufacturing, using superconducting magnets might be an alternative to helium cooling systems. For example, high-temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets require less cooling and can function at higher temperatures than conventional superconductors, which often rely on helium.

Lastly, NASA has also researched alternatives to helium for space exploration purposes. One such exploration involved seeking new propellants for rocket engines. While helium has been crucial in space missions for providing pressurization and cooling, the search for alternative gases and methods continues to evolve to meet the demands of future space travel.

Remember to evaluate each alternative based on its properties, safety, and cost before deciding which one suits your particular needs best.


Inhaling helium can be quite dangerous for your health. As helium displaces oxygen in your lungs, it can lead to side effects such as dizziness, loss of consciousness, and even death. Therefore, it’s essential to understand the potential risks associated with this seemingly fun party trick.

The dangers of inhaling helium are not limited to extreme cases. Even small amounts of helium may lead to oxygen levels being displaced enough to cause fatalities. Short-term side effects can include dizziness, unconsciousness, air embolism, ruptured lung, and choking.

When you inhale helium, your body’s oxygen level can drop to hazardous levels within seconds. However, it’s important to note that occasional, brief exposure to helium from a party balloon is unlikely to cause severe harm. It may only result in temporary light-headedness, but repeated exposure or prolonged inhalation can lead to more significant health risks.

In summary, while inhaling helium might seem like a fun party activity, it’s crucial to understand the potential dangers it poses to your health. It’s best to avoid inhaling helium and to educate others about the risks associated with this activity. By staying informed and cautious, you can protect yourself and others from the hazards linked to helium inhalation.


Can helium harm you?

Breathing in pure helium deprives the body of oxygen, as if you were holding your breath. If done in excess, it could lead to oxygen starvation, which can cause dizziness, unconsciousness, and even death in severe cases.

Is it safe to inhale helium from balloons?

It is generally discouraged. Inhaling helium from balloons can lead to lightheadedness, dizziness, and even suffocation in severe cases due to oxygen deprivation. It may seem like harmless fun, but can be quite dangerous, especially for children.

What happens when you inhale helium?

When you inhale helium, it temporarily changes the quality of your voice, making it sound high-pitched. This happens because helium is lighter than air, and sound travels faster through it. The health risk arises from the fact that while you’re inhaling helium, you’re not inhaling oxygen, which your body needs.

Can helium cause permanent damage?

Short-term exposure to helium typically doesn’t cause permanent damage. However, prolonged or repeated exposure can lead to serious health problems due to oxygen deprivation, including brain damage or death in severe cases. Also, directly inhaling helium under pressure (such as from a tank) can cause lung damage, including rupture and embolism.

Is helium gas flammable or explosive?

No, helium is a noble gas, which means it is chemically inert and doesn’t react with other chemicals under normal conditions. It is not flammable or explosive. However, it should not be used in enclosed spaces as it can displace oxygen, leading to asphyxiation.


  1. American Chemical Society. “Helium.” American Chemical Society,
  2. Britannica. “Helium | Definition, Properties, Uses, & Facts.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2019,
  3. Ebert, M., et al. “Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging with Hyperpolarised Helium-3.” Lancet (London, England), vol. 347, no. 9011, 11 May 1996, pp. 1297–1299,,
  4. Fernandez, Justin. “Why Does Helium Change Your Voice? | SiOWfa14 Science in Our World: Certainty and Cont.”, 2 Dec. 2014,
  5. “Liquid Helium, Superfluidity.”,
  6. PubChem. “Hydrogen.”, PubChem, 2019,
  7. Pubchem. “Nitrogen.”, 2019,
  8. Shima, Keisuke, et al. “A Fundamental Study on How Holding a Helium-Filled Balloon Affects Stability in Human Standing.” IEEE … International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics: [Proceedings], vol. 2017, 1 July 2017, pp. 1061–1066,, Accessed 21 June 2023.
  9. “Stay out of That Balloon!” Injury Prevention, vol. 12, no. 5, 1 Oct. 2006, pp. 322–322,

Next, check out some recent reviews you might find useful:

Is Swordfish Good for You?

Is White Wine Good For You?

Is Spinach in a Can Good for You? 

Is Head and Shoulders bad for you?


  • Marixie Manarang, MT, undergrad MD

    Marixie Manarang is licensed Medical Laboratory Scientist and an undergraduate of Doctor of Medicine (MD). For one year, she completed her internship training in a government hospital, primarily catering to retired veterans and their dependents. Through her preceptorships in medical school, she gained exposure to patients from various medical departments. Marixie’s passion for writing stems from her excellent medical background, being a mother, and a strong desire to assist the elderly and others in need. Education: Our Lady of Fatima University Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Medicine (2012-2015), Angeles University Foundation Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Medicine (2009-2011), Angeles University Foundation Bachelors, Medical Technology (2004-2009)






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *