Can helium cause death?

Has anyone ever heard the speil about how helium can freeze your lungs? let me get some feed bac cause this is killing me!:smack:

Any compressed gas will be cold when it is released, so I suppose it could cause a problem if you inhaled it direct from the tank (but not from an inflated balloon)

Helium could suffocate you in the same way any other gas or mixture not containing oxygen could.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adiabatic_process

The process is called adiabatic cooling and can generate cold burns. However at the flow rates it would take to freeze your lungs would probably burst your lungs first. Of course you could run the gas for a while then take a good whiff, I could see that freezing your lungs.

This discusses the chemical reaction in the lungs. The reasons people die from inhaling helium are discussed, but cold never is mentioned. Like was said a flow that caused freezing would have already ruptured the lungs.

http://www.cganet.com/N2O/helium_safety.htm

The most common cause of harm related to Helium had nothing to do with its toxicity (it has none except with respect to lack of oxygen). Some people feel the need to breathe helium directly from the tank and blow their lungs out as a result.
Its a pressure thing not a toxicity thing.

I suppose you guys heard of this death by helium balloon. I’d like to think that I would’ve realized that there was little or no oxygen in there.

They were nominated for a Darwin award.

http://darwinawards.com/darwin/darwin2006-05.html

The trouble with helium is that not only is it inert (and can’t support life), it’s not CO[sub]2[/sub] either (and so doesn’t make you realize you need to breathe). With a good lungful of reasonably pure helium, you can black out before you get around to replacing it with fresh air. At which point, you’re screwed.

You should read the link I posted.

This would be true of any inert gas other than CO[sub]2[/sub], correct? Like nitrogen, hydrogen, or (I don’t know) argon?

Is it really true though? When uhhh, someone I know used to do whippets (lungfuls of n2o taken from various sources) he still felt the need to breathe, at least on the first lungful. He guesses that this is because the oxygen already in our blood stream gets converted to co2 and when it gets back around to the blood vessels in our lungs it causes that sensation. Now, if one were to keep breathing out all the co2 that gets naturally built up and only breath in n2o then the sensation would go away by the third breath or so (removing the symptom but not the cause, as it were).

How’s this happen then? Oxygen is chemically bound to haemoglobin - fairly loosely; the trouble with carbon monoxide is that it binds a lot tighter and makes the haemo’ less available for oxygenation. I could understand helium dissolving in the blood fluid, but it’s chemically inert - surely it can’t bind to haemoglobin and hence displace oxygen?

You may be right. In threads like these I tend to give the lying-to-children version OTTOMH without Googling if I possibly can. It may be that you need to breathe helium in and out a few times to get the effect I mentioned - but that may also be a typical pattern for people who are breathing the stuff for comic effect.

Of tangential interest to this discussion is the use of heliox and trimix for scuba diving (wikipedia has them).

Heliox is basically helium and oxygen (plus nitrogen for trimix) and is breathed for long periods by deep sea divers. Which should make for a decent “everyday” example of helium not being toxic.

Of course - and similarly, it doesn’t cause the “bends” the way air (nitrogen, anyway) does. I should have remembered that - it’s extremely insoluble in water (hence the bloodstream).

Of course the thread title should have been “Can helium cause death? (Need answer fast!)”.

Wikipedia says only two helium-caused deaths Stateswide between 2000 and 2004, so I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.

I don’t know about that. It is late 2008, so we are due. Are you feeling lucky?

Hey, check my location - I’m clearly immune. :smiley: