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Helium Balloon Warning: Child Dies From Helium Inhalation

The public have been warned about the dangers of helium after a young boy died from helium inhalation.

It can be tempting; kids see helium balloons as something fun and exciting, especially with the squeaky voice side effects that result from inhaling a few breaths of helium. However, what happens when someone inhales too much helium? This can cause dizziness, and even fainting. Even worse, it can cause someone to stop breathing and even result in death, so it's fair to say that it's unsafe for children to do this, as they may not be able to gauge when they've inhaled too much and need to stop, and if there's no adult around, this can prove to be catastrophic.

On the 29th of June 2022, dinosaur-loving 5 year old Karlton Noah Donaghey suffered a devastating brain injury after being found unconscious inside an opened giant dinosaur helium balloon in his Gateshead home. It is thought that he tore open the foil to climb inside and surprise his family, but was overcome by the helium which displaced the oxygen that he needed to breathe. His mum found him collapsed ten minutes after he had went indoors from the paddling pool in his garden, and Karlton died of an hypoxic brain injury in hospital 6 days later.


Photo credit: family of Karlton Donaghey

As a result of this tragic death, a coroner has vowed to contact Newcastle City Council's public health department in order to raise public health awareness of the dangers, and request that action is taken in order to prevent more deaths. Karlton's mum told the inquest into his death;

"I just want everyone to understand that Karlton was an incredibly precious boy. For me and Karl, he was our only child and he was precious to everyone he met. This tragic accident took him away from everyone who loved him. As his mum and dad we will carry him with us forever."

Detective Laura Defty, of Northumbria Police, investigated Karlton's death, and told the court that the incident was "...a tragic accident and the parents were in no way to blame. These balloons can be commonly purchased, not just at the Hoppings but from other places. I don't think there's anything that could have been done to prevent this or to have stopped this from happening."

In addition to the evidence of helium inhalation, a toxicology examination found no evidence of anything in his system that could have contributed to his death. Karlton's GP shared that he had no illness or injuries in his medical history, further highlighting that this death was caused by helium inhalation and not by secondary factors.

The inquest was told by assistant coroner, James Thompson, that Karlton was living 'a happy family life and was very well-loved'. He also stated that  Karlton, in his professional summary, suffered asphyxia due to his airways being covered by the balloon and 'inhaling the helium which has displaced the oxygen in his lungs, either out of curiosity or indeed in search of a moment of fun'.

Please take Karlton's story and bear it in mind when around helium balloons.

It's really important to teach children that helium, whilst an entertaining novelty that can make balloons float and give us hilarious squeaky voices, can be fatally dangerous. Always supervise childen around helium balloons, discourage any inhalation, and explain the dangers to your children regularly. We send all of our love and condolences to Karlton's family and friends.

Read more about the risks of helium here.

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