Sucking helium and speaking in high-pitch voice may be a fun party trick, but it's time to put a stop to the hazardous activity. Even though it's sure to get a laugh or two from the gathered crowd, it puts your grandchild at risk of serious injury or even worse — death.
Just recently a mother in the U.K. panicked after finding her daughter unresponsive in the play area of a McDonald's. The 9-year-old had sucked helium from a balloon and was entertaining her younger brother with her high-pitched voice when she slumped over.
"I looked round and she was slumped in the corner — she had collapsed. Her eyes were rolling and I was terrified," the girl's mother told The Sun. While this youngster was quite fortunate, not everyone is.
When you breathe in helium, you're depriving your body of oxygen, so it's not surprising that you can pass out from a lack of oxygen. If you're sucking helium from a party balloon, "at worst you'll keep going until you get lightheaded and pass out — at which point you'll stop inhaling helium and your body's oxygen levels will return to normal," Daniel Engber reported for Slate.
The real issue arises when you suck helium from a helium tank. "It's far more dangerous to suck helium out of a pressurized tank: If the gas comes in too quickly, your lungs might burst and hemorrhage." Engber wrote.
In 2012, 14-year-old Ashley Long suffered and embolism after "huffing" helium from a tank and died.
Dr. Mark Morocco, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles, compared inhaling helium from a tank to a diver emerging from deep water too quickly.
"A gas bubble gets into the bloodstream, perhaps through some kind of tear in a blood vessel, and can block blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke," he said. How scary!
With these recent tragedies bringing light to the issue, many more parents as well as organizations like DARE are coming together to speak out on the dangers of inhaling helium. Maybe it's time to call your grandchild and let them know that there are plenty of other safer ways to have fun.