Why does helium change your voice

You need to have had, at least once if not more, the experience of breathing in a dash of helium to appreciate this article. Helium does some naughty alterations in the way sound comes out of your voice box, thus turning you into a funny living sound box. The pitch of your voice resembles that of Disney’s chipmunks, making every word out of your mouth a virtual laughter bomb.

A neat introduction to the concept of sound and timbre would enable the understanding of the science behind the strange phenomenon. We can distinguish the same note played from a different source because of the variation in timbre. Sound is just air that makes its way from the lungs to the larynx, and subsequently through the mouth where the well practiced movements of lips, teeth and tongue lead to the audibility of the intended words. Humans have a more or less established range of voice pitches, but that of a chipmunk does not fit into the range! Helium drags the impossible into the realms of reality. It does so because of a very simple fact. Helium is lighter than air. Simple and trivial as it may sound, the actual modulations undergone by the sound waves are sufficient to absolutely dismantle your voice. Sound travels faster in helium, and consequently, its wavelength also gets altered. Hence, there is no alteration in the track of the sound waves; it is just that the speed at which they travel their route gets increased. This is why the pitch of the voice becomes unnaturally high when you speak after having inhaled helium.

The shift in timbre, not the frequency is to blame for making you sound like a chipmunk. Though it might sound like an all fun game as of now, but there is denying the logic of the advice that helium inhalation is better avoided. This is because helium could end up damaging your lungs. It is too risky a trade-off for just a couple of chuckles. And then, there is the risk of developing air bubbles which make home in the arteries and loiter precariously close to the brain.