Why Does Helium Change Your Voice?

You might have experienced it yourself or seen it on tv where a person sucks in helium gas from a balloon and ultimately changes their voice making it sound cartoonish. Helium is commonly used in balloons to make them float in the air.
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Have you ever asked yourself how this all really happen? How is helium gas able to change a human's voice? Some believed that the gas increases the voice tone while others claimed that this is not what is really happening.

It is a much more complex process where the helium will affect "timbre", a mysterious sound effect. To fully understand the effect of helium on your voice, one must first know how sound actually works.

How Is Sound Produced?

The air needs to move from the lungs through the larynx and make some changes to the voice cord and vocal pathway to produce the respective sound. As we speak, the air will move upwards from our lungs and into the larynx. This is where the air will be in contact with our voice cord.

It is also known as the vocal cord, and this region consists of tissue folds. As the air touches the bottom part of the vocal cord, it will result in vibrations and this will stimulate the air molecules inside the vocal cord and create a resonance frequency.

The vibrant vocal cord will influence the tone and air vibrations ultimately affecting the timbre which is the quality of the sound being felt which will differ from other types of sound. And finally manipulating the path of the vocal by moving the lips and tongue will create various resonance frequencies.

This situation will help us in producing a different sounds like "aahs" and "oohs". Lastly, when the sound is released from our mouth this will also be in the form of waves.

What Happens If We Suck In Helium?

As some of you might have known, there have been many manipulations and vibrations happening in order to create your unique sounds. However, the sound that comes out of your mouth might not be the sound that you actually hear.

This is because your surrounding can also influence the sound that is produced. For instance, a common room comprises at least 0.038% carbon dioxide, 0.93% argon, 20.95% oxygen, 78.08% nitrogen, and other gases in small amounts.

Nitrogen which is the most gas present is seven times denser than helium. The sound wave moves through helium much faster since it is more light than the air. If the room temperature is 68 °F, the sound will move through the air at a rate of 344 meters/sec. 

Nevertheless, if the room is filled with helium, the same sound will move at a faster pace of 927 meters/sec. Because of that if helium is inhaled, what really is happening is that the air molecules inside your vocal cord have been changed. So the sound will move much faster than normal.

As stated above, the helium gas will not change your tone but instead it will influence your vocal cord. When the sound moves faster through the helium molecules, it will also change the resonance of the vocal path making it less responsive to lower sound frequency and more responsive towards high sound frequency.

Ultimately, your sound will come out stagnant and making you sound similar to Donald Duck.

Is Helium Gas Lethal?

Helium is the second-highest known matter in the universe (hydrogen being the most). Sucking in a few breaths of helium might not pose any threat to you. But taking in too much helium at once might be dangerous to your health.

Despite yourself thinking that it is fun to mess around with helium, care must also be taken when handling it. As too much helium might cause difficulty in breathing. Since you are not breathing normally, your lungs will not get enough oxygen causing you to suffocate for air.

If you start having a headache then it will be a sign for you to stop at once. On top of that. sucking in helium from a highly pressurized tank is definitely a no. This pressure may cause your lungs to burst and also cause other symptoms like seizures, strokes, and even death!

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