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Addiction and Substance Abuse

Helium

10/22/2003

Question:

Will it hurt me if I suck helium out of a balloon?

Answer:

Although many people have inhaled helium from balloons and have experienced no untoward side effects, inhaling helium can be dangerous, even deadly. There have been two reports of individuals inhaling helium and experiencing damage to their arteries both in the brain and heart. Even a manufacturer (Praxair) of helium warns about the dangers of inhaling helium in their Safety Data Sheet. Praxair states that helium if just taken in a single acute overexposure acts as an asphyxiant(cutting of oxygen to the brain). Also the manufacturer states that inhaling helium can cause headache, drowsiness, dizziness, salivation, and loss of consciousness.Lack of oxygen can kill. As it was stated in one article: "Imitating Mickey Mouse can be dangerous." Inhaling helium is probably not a good idea. 

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Response by:

Peter D Rogers, MD, MPH
Clinical Associate Professor
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University