May Day balloons can be fun or dangerous, depending on the user. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

On May Day one doesn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to spot a group of kids sucking a balloon.

This can be fatal.  

“Inhaling helium is a serious safety risk. One is not allowed to inhale helium—even as a joke to make a Donald Duck voice—because inhaling it can be fatal,” gas company AGA said in a statement. “When a human inhales plain helium it replaces oxygen in the lungs. That’s when organs receive less oxygen or at worst, it stops the flow of oxygen completely.”

Thus, according to AGA, inhaling helium can lead to unconsciousness or even to death.

“A person who has inhaled helium can suddenly suffocate because helium prevents the normal breathing reflex from working.”

In Finland, it’s hard to find statistics on how many deaths or loss of consciousnesses helium has caused during the May Day festivities but an article by BBC News, for example, highlights a death of a 13-year-old boy in Northern Ireland dying after inhaling helium from a balloon.

Another victim of helium, according to The DailyMail, is a girl, 14, who died at a party of the same cause in the UK.

AGA lists first aid instructions in case of encountering a person who seems to lack oxygen:

Check if the person is breathing independently. If needed, administer first aid, call the emergency number 112 and follow their instructions.

Picture on the cover: Jake Wild/Flickr

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