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Analox watches The Big Bang Theory – helium is no laughing matter

Ever since joining Analox, my awareness of the effects of different gases has definitely increased.

Before I started here I knew a little about carbon dioxide (CO2) and the dangers it poses such as a risk of asphyxiation, but it seems I wasn’t quite as clued up on helium (He).

In the past like many other people, I have inhaled helium from balloons to make my voice go high-pitched and squeaky.

At the time I thought it was just a bit of harmless fun, but I didn’t realise the negative effects it can have on your health.

Helium is a colourless, odourless, inert gas, and when you inhale it, this displaces oxygen (O2) in your body, meaning you are only receiving helium rather than the oxygen you need to keep your body working.

Usually a small single breath of helium may just result in dizziness, but there is a risk of asphyxiation and loss of consciousness if pure helium is breathed in more than once.

Recently I was watching the American sitcom ‘The Big Bang Theory’, which primarily focuses on four geeky and socially awkward friends who work at a private research university in California.

In the episode ‘The Vengeance Formulation’, the theoretical physicist Sheldon is in his office being interviewed on National Public Radio. An unlikeable colleague pumps helium into Sheldon’s office as a prank, which makes his voice go squeaky when he is talking on the radio.

This makes everyone at the university listening to the interview laugh, however the volume of helium required to fill the room and give this effect would be enough to cause Sheldon to suffocate due to lack of oxygen.

Now that would be a grim episode, so instead the dangers of oxygen displacement are overlooked, despite the fact that the person committing the prank is a physicist who should know the effects of inhaling too much helium.

This year an eight year old girl in Portland, Oregon, died after inhaling helium from a birthday balloon. She was in her bedroom trying to suck the helium out of it and suffocated to death. When her father went to check on her, he found her in bed with the balloon on her head, so he cut it off and performed CPR, before emergency workers spent an hour trying to resuscitate her.

They were unable to revive her and her death was ruled as an accident.

Deaths from helium are rare, as usually breathing too much helium will make you pass out, which would stop you actively inhaling it. Despite this, it is still very unhealthy, as every breath you take of pure helium will deprive your body of oxygen and raise the risk of asphyxiation.

Author: Araminta Hartley

Founded in 1981, Analox Sensor Technology provides niche and custom gas detection solutions to industries including beverage and fast food, commercial diving and laboratories. Analox has over 325 years of collective, specialist electronics and software engineering expertise, as well as a worldwide distributor network. Contact us to see how we can provide expert gas monitoring solutions and help you achieve your goals.

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